Family Helps Raise Awareness About Lawnmower Accidents
A split second was all it took to forever change Chester Clark’s young life on Aug. 7, 2015.
While his grandfather mowed the lawn on a warm summer evening in Kearney, Mo., Chester’s grandmother took him and his sister outside to play.
“My parents were keeping the kids for the week,” said Chester’s mom, Lisa Mycanka. “I was at home in Sparta, Wisc., caring for our new baby.”
At some point, Chester’s grandmother returned to the house, watching the kids from a window.
“My mom said she had just checked on the kids and everything was fine,” Lisa said. Then seconds later, it wasn’t.
“We don’t know how, but my father backed the riding lawnmower over Chester,” Lisa said. "He looked, but Chester was short enough that when you turn around you can't see that far down. So he never saw him," Lisa said.
Just 5 years old, the preschooler’s left leg was badly mangled. Thankfully, his right was untouched.
“My mother called 911, and Chester was transported to Children’s Mercy Kansas City.”
At Children’s Mercy, Dale Jarka, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon, assessed Chester’s injuries.
"These accidents are always very distressing to me, and Chester’s injury was very severe, just about life-threatening," Dr. Jarka said.
“When Dr. Jarka called to deliver the news, she explained that there had been a terrible accident involving a riding lawnmower, and that she wasn’t sure she could save Chester’s leg,” Lisa said. “I gave her permission to amputate his leg if necessary.”
After making the eight-hour drive to Kansas City, Lisa said when she arrived, Chester’s surgery was over. “Dr. Jarka had to amputate his left leg above the knee. He was stable, on a wound vac and heavily medicated for pain.”
Chester spent the next seven days at Children’s Mercy with Lisa at his side.
“Dr. Jarka and the staff at Children’s Mercy were wonderful,” Lisa said. “Chester had top-notch care, and being here from out of town, I appreciated the family-friendly environment.”
By the end of the week, Chester was stable enough to be transferred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., a facility much closer to the family’s home.
Chester spent an additional two weeks there recovering from the accident. After months using a wheelchair and then a walker, Chester was fit with a prosthetic leg, which required several more months of rehabilitation. Though he started kindergarten seven weeks late, he’s never looked back.
Now 9 years old, Chester hasn’t let the accident stop him from participating in everything from Cub Scouts to gym.
“Chester is required to run three minutes every morning in physical education,” Lisa said. “He keeps up with his classmates, and he loves scouting.”
To this day, Chester doesn’t remember exactly how the lawnmower accident happened, but Lisa said it was an ironic turn of events.
“My father always taught my sister and I to stay away from the mower when it’s in use, so I know he was being very careful,” she said. “This was a terrible accident.”
For Lisa, the incident drove home how important prevention is when children are near a mower, and how important education is.
“At home, we talk about mowing safety and how the mower is not a toy. It’s dangerous.”
And though Chester has a great attitude and has bounced back from his injuries, Lisa knows this accident was preventable.
“Mowing accidents are completely avoidable,” Lisa said. “Please don’t let your children near any kind of mower. We never want another family to have to go through what we did.”
Preventing Mowing Injuries …
Despite added safety features and accident awareness, lawnmower injuries are on the rise. In fact, more than 17,000 children are treated for lawnmower injuries each year in the U.S., resulting in 4,000 trips to the emergency room and 75 pediatric deaths.
Here are some tips from the experts at Children’s Mercy to keep your kids safe this summer:
- Resist the temptation to let kids ride on a mower with you while it’s engaged, and never let kids approach a mower while it’s running.
- Make sure older kids with responsibility for mowing the lawn wear safety shoes, long sleeves, pants and eye and ear protection, even when it’s hot out. Shorts and flip-flops may be cooler, but they offer no protection from mower blades or projectiles.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends all families follow these three simple rules to prevent mowing accidents:
- No child under 6 years old should be near a lawnmower for any reason.
- No child under 12 years old should operate a push mower.
- No child under 16 years old should operate a riding mower.
Learn more about lawnmower safety tips.
Learn more about the Pediatric Orthopedics at Children’s Mercy.