Franklin 3-year-old loses part of leg after lawn mower accident. Her mother is urging parents to understand the full dangers of the machines.
FRANKLIN – Sarah Reardon “got the kind of phone call that no parent ever wants to get.”
She was unpacking boxes on Aug. 22 at her new home in Franklin while her two daughters, Alexa, 6, and Abigail, 3, stayed at their father’s home in Lakeville for a few days. That Saturday, she received a hysterical call from her children’s father riding in the back of an ambulance.
Abigail had been backed over by a riding lawn mower.
He told her the ambulance was on its way toward Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, which had the closest Level 1 Trauma center.
“I dropped everything,” said Reardon, driving over 30 minutes to the hospital, beating the ambulance there. When the ambulance arrived, she watched its doors swing open and as Abby was wheeled out.
“She wasn’t even crying,” she said, and Abigail was still conscious, not even appearing to be in shock.
Reardon asked that the lawn mower driver’s identity not be published because it was an accident. She said the operator didn’t see her behind them as the machine was put in reverse.
She hardly cried through it all, said her mother, and would always say, “I’m a little scared but I’m gonna be bwave, mama ... hold my hand.”
Abigail ended up losing her left foot and leg up to the middle of her calf, said her mother, and will likely experience more surgeries, physical therapy, occupational therapy and counseling for the coming years. Alexa, who saw the accident happen, has also begun counseling to help her understand what happened.
Motivated through taking the hospital’s therapy dog, Nemo, for a walk around the building, Abigail learned how to use her wheelchair and helped her associate it with something positive, said her mother.
At least until the end of September, she’ll be on five different medications, and will need many prosthetic leg fittings over the next 15 years or longer until she’s done growing. Because the bones in her amputated leg grow, the skin might not stretch fast enough to keep up, so she’ll have to go through several procedures to “shorten the bone” as she grows.
But after she’s done growing, she’ll still need a new prosthetic every five years or so, said Reardon.
After healing for some time and using compression bandages, Abigail will be able to get her first prosthetic leg before the end of the year.
A new prosthetic leg can cost anywhere between $5,000 to $20,000 on a yearly basis, said Reardon, and expects out-of-pocket medical expenses to exceed $90,000 over the course of Abigail’s treatment. The out-of-pocket expenses under her insurance max out at $6,000, and her doctor said to assume hitting that number every year for as long as Abby is a dependent of hers.
If she stays on her mother’s insurance until she’s 26, that could mean for the next 23 years.
Coming home from the hospital on the day of the accident, Reardon opened her front door and was met with a pair of Abigail’s shoes.
“I just lost it,” she said, describing Abigail as a funny and independent girl who likes Disney princesses and playing with dolls. “I made her, I brought her to life, and she was whole ... then the surgeons took away parts of her forever. And I had to sign a consent form for each surgery. It was really tortuous to go through that five times.”
As Abigail stayed at the hospital that night, Reardon explained to Alexa what was happening to her sister and what it would mean to have a prosthetic leg.
“Her first question was, “Will Abby be OK?’” said Reardon. She then said that she hoped the other kids at school wouldn’t make fun of her.
Every day since then, Alexa thinks about the accident, she said.
On Sept. 6, Abigail finally got to go home.
As soon as she was buckled in her car seat, Reardon said she took a deep breath and said, “I missed our car and our stuff. Let’s GO!”
It was the first time they had spent the night together as a family in the new home.
Every day onward, Abigail will have weekly electrocardiograms (EKGs), blood work and “an endless stream of appointments and visiting nurses,” said Reardon. She also has to administer a drug that goes through Abigail’s PICC line via a pump every eight hours daily.
She’s taken time off work from her job as a manager at Milton CAT in Milford to care for Abigail and attend her many appointments over the next few months. She said she’s grateful that her employer has been so understanding.
When Abigail first saw her leg in between a bandage change, Reardon said she was afraid of many things happening – that she’d cry, not understand or even ask for her foot back.
But none of those things happened.
“I don’t want her to be afraid of her body,” she said. But since the accident, she said she hasn’t sensed a lot of anger or frustration from Abigail about what happened to her.
“The spirit of Abby’s story is her spirit,” she said. “She’s been so strong, resilient and brave, and has navigated this far better than me. I’m drawing my own strength from that little girl.”
Abigail’s play area at home has since been padded with gymnastic mats to make the surface softer, and says she still has quite a bit of mobility left. But now she struggles to do things she used to, like getting in and out of chairs or going to the bathroom without help.
Because so many people reached out to donate after hearing of the accident, a friend of Reardon’s, Kate Gray, helped her set up a GoFundMe account to allow others to help pay for her medical expenses.
In a matter of days, more than half of their $100,000 goal was raised. As of Sunday afternoon, more than $60,000 had been raised.
Reardon said she set up a separate account to manage the funds and said every penny will go toward Abigail’s care. Money raised from the GoFundMe page “exceeded my expectations many times over,” she said.
“I had contributed to them before, but never had to utilize one personally,” she said. “I’m just blown away from the support Abby has received from complete strangers.”
The GoFundMe Team even donated $1,000 to them as part of its Gives Back program, which will help offset a large portion of the fee the organization takes from every campaign.
“That was just amazing to be selected for that,” she said.
“Please don’t treat it like a toy”
Every year, over 9,000 children in the United States are sent to hospital emergency rooms for lawn mower-related injuries, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But many parents are still confident that it could never happen to their child, said Reardon.
“I’ve seen parents giving kids rides on (riding lawn mowers),” she said. “There’s an association with it that it’s this fun, positive thing to do and there’s no fear of it as a machine. There’s no fear that this machine could do some real damage.”
This past week Reardon went to Home Depot by herself, the kids staying at home with her parents. She noticed a little boy climb onto one of the riding lawn mowers on display, noting how “cool” it was, and began twisting and turning the wheel. The boy’s father also noted how “cool” it was as he checked out the machines.
“I started hyperventilating,” she said. “I wanted to go over and say, ‘please don’t treat it like a toy.’” Instead, she went to her car and broke down.
“You think it’s going to be OK to give them a ride with you or have them playing around outside while you’re mowing, but your life can change forever in a second,” she said. “That’s all it takes. (Abigail is) disabled for life now because of this, and if I can prevent just one other family (from experiencing this), then great. It has been agony, for me as a mom. It’s just something I wish never happened.”
To help pay for Abigail’s medical expenses, visit gofundme.com/f/help-for-abigail-reardon.