5-year-old girl loses foot in lawn mower accident

Italia McAllister was playing with her 3-year-old brother Tuesday evening outside her grandparents’ Elkhart home when she got too close as a family member mowed the lawn. The girl’s father, Cody McAllister, told the Indy Star that the children began chasing the riding lawn mower as the driver rode into a corner of the yard.

Not realizing they were behind him, he put the mower in reverse, McAllister told the newspaper. Trash barrels on the back of the machine knocked Italia over, and her left foot got caught underneath the mower.

“We were sitting on the deck, and I heard, you know, just like a rock getting caught in a lawnmower,” McAllister told the Star. “I mean, that’s the sound I heard, and there’s no rocks in that area.

“So I just happened to look, and she was laying on the ground and I knew it was bad.”

McAllister ran to his daughter and scooped her up, taking her inside the house, the Star reported. Though a family member called 911, they didn’t wait for help. 

McAllister’s father, who is an emergency medical technician, stopped the bleeding and splinted Italia’s mangled foot. 

“He saved her life,” McAllister said of his father. 

The McAllisters drove Italia to the nearest hospital, from which she was flown to Indianapolis’ Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. 

Her mother, Robyn McAllister, wrote on Facebook that day that her daughter’s life was irrevocably changed but that she was already on the road to recovery. 

“Italia, we love you so much and Mommy and Daddy (are) by your side as much as we can be,” Robyn McAllister wrote. “She lost her whole foot! Surgery will be taking place soon, and we’ll update everyone when we can!”

Cody McAllister posted videos of Italia in her hospital bed on Thursday, watching videos on a computer tablet that explain what she will undergo in future surgeries. A nurse sits with her, helping to explain and asking the little girl if she has questions. 

The family spent Mother’s Day at Italia’s side as she began the long road to recovery. The little girl, who is known for her love of cheerleading, dancing and gymnastics, was already showing signs of her spirit returning, her mother said. 

“I can already start to see her spunky side coming back,” Robyn McAllister told WSBT in Mishawaka on Sunday. “Today, she just started doing her little songs that she makes up.”

Despite being in the hospital, Italia has been keeping up with her schoolwork and preparing for her kindergarten graduation, the news station reported. Her parents are working with her school, Pinewood Elementary School, to set up a webcam so she can participate with her classmates. 

Italia is also attempting to walk on her own using a walker. The family posted video of the determined little girl Monday on social media. 

Aside from dealing with Italia’s injury, the family has also had to deal with criticism from people who don’t understand how the injury could happen with so many adults around. 

“Nobody ever thinks to look behind them on a lawn mower,” Cody McAllister told the Star. “That’s why I’m trying to raise awareness of it and get people to realize it can happen to anybody.”

Lawn mower accidents involving children are more prevalent than most people might think. 

The e-Nable Community, which describes itself as a group of volunteers around the world who use their 3D printers to create prosthetics for those in need, reported that lawn mower accidents are the leading cause of childhood amputations in the U.S. 

Each year, 800 children are run over by riding mowers or small tractors, e-Nable reported. More than 600 of those result in amputations. 

Jilliam Warden, a prosthetic-orthotic clinician at Cook Children’s Heath Care System in Fort Worth, wrote last year that the issue affects a relatively small portion of the pediatric population but is a serious one nonetheless. 

“The saddest cases (of amputations) are those that are completely preventable, and these traumatic lawn-mowing accidents are exactly that,” Warden wrote. “If your child is lucky enough to avoid an amputation after a run in with a lawn mower, they are still going through a very scary and traumatic injury. And let’s not get started on what the driver of the lawn mower will have to contend with for the rest of his or her life.” 

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Italia’s parents have declined to name the relative who ran the little girl over, citing the fact that he is wracked with guilt and that they don’t want to make his grief worse, the Star reported

Science Daily reported last year that the most common type of childhood lawn mower injuries, about 39 percent, involve cuts. Next, at 15 percent, are burns. 

Hands and fingers are the most often injured, usually when a child touches a hot surface on the machine, the study reported. Legs, feet and toes are next on the list. 

Children younger than 5 years old are the most likely to be injured by touching a hot surface or from a back-over injury, Science Daily reported

Researchers are urging more safety measures built into lawnmowers, including shields that would keep hands and feet from slipping under the mower, as well as a mechanism that would prevent the machine from being able to automatically mow in reverse. An override switch could be located behind the driver’s seat, which would require the driver to look behind him before reversing with the blades whirling. 

Some of the suggested safety measures are addressed in the industry, but not all, Science Daily reported

The science publication offered some safety tips to help prevent accidents:

  • Never allow children near a lawn mower, even when it is not in use. They should also never be passengers on a riding mower in use.
  • Children younger than 6 should remain indoors while an adult or teen is mowing a lawn. 
  • Check the lawn for rocks, sticks and any other debris in the grass before mowing. Objects thrown by a mower can cause serious injuries.
  • Use protective eyewear and sturdy shoes while mowing. Never go barefoot. 
  • Teach teenagers well before allowing them to mow the lawn, and supervise their work. Children should be 12 or older to use a push mower and at least 16 years old to use a riding mower. 

Italia will require a prosthetic leg to be able to walk, run and play again, the Star reported. She has already begun physical therapy and will undergo additional surgeries to get her limb ready for the device. 

Her aunt has started a GoFundMe page, “Italia’s Road to Recovery,” to help fund everything the little girl will need. As of Monday afternoon, the page had raised more than $12,000 of its $30,000 goal.

The hospital is accepting cards and gifts on the patient’s behalf, as well. They can be sent to Italia McAllister, Burn Unit 5 East-Room #5221, Riley Children's Hospital, 705 Riley Hospital Drive, Indianapolis, IN 46202.

Cody McAllister said that despite everything she’s been through, his daughter’s signature sense of humor remains intact. Visitors to her hospital room are left laughing.

“She can just look at you, crossing her eyes and sticking out her tongue,” McAllister told the Star. “She’ll make up her own jokes and they don’t even make sense, but they’re still funny.”

McAllister said he is amazed by his daughter’s resilience.

“Honestly, she’s my hero,” he said. “I would never be able to do what she’s doing right now.”

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