KATWE, Uganda (WIAT) — When the father heard his two-year-old son had been partially swallowed by a hippo, he thought it was a joke.

But Iga Peter would soon find out it was true: his two-year-old son Paul had been nearly completely swallowed, then spit up by a hippo who’d approached a group of children playing near Lake Edward in southwest Uganda, according to police and witnesses who saw the incident unfold.

In his first interview since his son’s near death in December, Iga Peter said Paul and the whole family remain traumatized by the incident. What happened that day changed his family’s life instantly, he told CBS 42, and continues to impact them every day.

“I couldn’t believe it”

Iga Paul simply couldn’t believe what he was being told. He said he’d never heard of a hippopotamus attacking a child before. It wasn’t until he arrived at the place it happened — when he saw the blood in the grass — that he knew it was true.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was traumatized.”

He was told by witnesses that the other children were able to run away as the hippo approached the group. Two-year-old Paul fell behind.

“He came face-to-face with a hippopotamus,” Peter said. Witnesses cried and screamed that the child was dead as the hippo carried Paul in its mouth, “only the legs remaining behind.”

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Police later credited a local man, Chrispas Bagonza, with throwing stones at the hippo, which ultimately led to the child’s survival.

“We pray God is with us”

The child was immediately brought to a local clinic, his father said, and then to a hospital for further treatment. Paul had cuts and bruises on his face and neck, but scans revealed no physical internal damage, he said.

In the days after the tragedy, Peter said that his son vomited repeatedly and wouldn’t eat or sleep well.

But Paul has made some progress, his father said. The vomiting stopped earlier this month. He’s eating better now.

Still, Peter said that Paul wakes up often from nightmares. And anytime he sees an animal — even on TV — he screams, his dad said. It’s something Peter worries may never subside.

“We, as parents, we have no peace,” Peter said. “We have sleepless nights.”

He said Paul’s initial medical treatment and the cost of transportation to the hospital have already put his family in debt. But he said he believes his son’s life is a gift from god. For that, he’s appreciative.

“We have a belief that that was God’s power,” Peter said. “And we pray that God is with us.”