Protecting Your Child From Lawnmower Accidents
People always remember where they were at specific tragic dates in history, whether on a national or personal scale.
When people ask me where I was on September 11, 2001, I remember it vividly. I had just said, “I do not think my day could be any worse.” I was amputating the leg of a 7-year-old boy whose grandfather had accidentally run over him with a lawnmower. As a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, this would be the first of my many exposures to the tragedy of lawnmower injuries, particularly where children were the victims. Though my colleagues and I welcome spring and summer, we also know that it is the time of year when lawnmower accidents are most frequent. In fact, I have been involved in the surgical care of children who are significantly injured or maimed in lawnmower accidents every year since I arrived at Fletcher Allen in 2006, alongside my fellow plastic, trauma, and orthopedic surgical colleagues. Nationally, 37,000 injuries per year in the United States are caused by lawn mowers, and more than 9,000 of those cases are children.
These are awful injuries that no child should have to suffer. The suffering does not end with the initial injury either. Our patients go through multiple reconstructive surgeries as we try to set them up to live as functional a life as possible. The damage is psychological too, not only for the patients, but also for their family members, who suffer guilt at not having been able to protect their child. They wish they could trade places and undergo the painful procedures themselves as they witness a child or grandchild undergo another surgery, one more IV, or physical therapy. Time off from work and time away from the other children or siblings take their toll on those involved.
At Fletcher Allen, we have a wonderful team approach that includes Pediatrics; Orthopedic, Pediatric, Plastic, and Trauma surgical services; Child Life services; Psychology and Psychiatric services; Infectious Disease services; and our pharmacy. Our goal is always to provide the best possible care for our patients.
Accidents happen. It is a fact of life; however, there is a lot we can do to prevent the problem – and it begins with understanding it.
I recently contacted Professor David Smith in the University of Vermont Department of Physics to ask him to first help me understand the potential for injury from a lawnmower and to put it into real world terms. He sent me a letter that included equations like this:
Fortunately, Professor Smith’s note also included a summary. He explained that objects coming out of a lawnmower chute are going more than 200 miles per hour. That’s faster than the take-off and landing speeds of a 747. The energy involved in a blade strike? Turns out it is equivalent to the energy involved in not one, but multiple handgun wounds. (Want to see the math? Read his Letter).
Most of us don’t recognize just how dangerous everyday items like lawnmowers are – and most of us don’t have a Professor Smith on call to remind us of the physics involved. When I talk to parents, they tell me: “I just did not know it could happen,” “I saw him slide, but could not stop the blade fast enough,” “I had no idea she was behind me, I thought she was in the sandbox,” and “It all happened so fast!”
What can we do as parents? As the father of two boys under the age of ten, these are the rules that I follow as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. I also educate my children at length regarding the dangers of lawnmowers. My seven-year-old recently put me in time out for leaving the key in our riding mower. He was right, so I sat (Much to his annoyance, however, I did ignore the one-minute-for-every-year-you-are-old rule.)
Having happy healthy children is what we all wish for. We cannot protect them from everything, but with a little knowledge and some good “parental paranoia” we can take lawnmowers out of the equation.
Robert Nesbit, MD, is a plastic surgeon at Fletcher Allen Health Care and associate professor at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.