Commentary: A cautionary tale about lawn mowers

Battalion Chief Glenn Dube
Southington Fire Dept. News and Notes

Saturday, July 29 was a typical midsummer night for the Anderson family. With a warm, dry evening Chris Anderson decided to mow the lawn. The youngest of his three boys, four year old Nathan, asked if he could ride along with his dad. With Chris’ work schedule time with his boys is all the more precious and off they went together mowing the lawn, father and son in a scene almost out of a Rockwell painting. And then it wasn’t.

The tractor hit a bump, lurched unexpectedly, and threw both Andersons off. Nathan’s shirt was grabbed by the blades, pulling him under the operating mowing deck. Chris reacted instantly, pushing the mower off his boy within a second or two, an action doctors later credited with saving Nathan’s life.

The boy’s injuries were extensive. In two seconds under the mowing deck he suffered a fractured skull, compound fracture to his left elbow, broken left shoulder blade, and long, deep lacerations to his head, stomach, groin, left thigh and left foot. Christina Anderson described her son’s injuries as “overwhelming.”

Things began to happen quickly. The Andersons, along with their neighbors, rushed Nathan inside and wrapped him in blankets to attempt to stop the severe blood loss. Christina immediately called 911, crediting 911 dispatcher Lester Bouchard with keeping her calm. Southington Fire and Police departments responded along with AMR ambulance. Crews treated Nathan’s life threatening injuries aggressively, and he was transported to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center by AMR with assistance from firefighter Ben Kiessling.

Christina rode in the back of the ambulance with Paramedic Rick Bergen and EMT Jackie Stowe, helping to reassure Nathan as Rick and Jackie worked feverishly to stabilize him, efforts Christina describes as “amazing.” The Anderson family is one of great faith, and near the end of the transport as Nathan began to fade Christina reached for that faith and began to recite the Lord’s Prayer to her youngest son. Rick joined in.

It’s no ordinary school bus. The Anderson boys, above, get ready to board Ladder 1 for a ride to their first day of school.

When Nathan arrived at CCMC the trauma team was waiting for him, and a room full of doctors, nurses, and techs went to work on the little boy fighting for his life. CCMC also specializes in caring for the parents, and a staff member called a “child life specialist” was assigned to stay with Chris and Christina, answering their questions and explaining the procedures that were being done. Christina said that it seemed like every time they examined a different part of Nathan’s body they found another injury. By 11 p.m., Nathan was stable enough to go to the operating room, where he had the first of what will be multiple surgeries. It took nearly 200 stitches to close all of his wounds.

Nathan spent two weeks at CCMC, and his recovery has progressed faster than anyone expected. His fractures are healing and his lacerations were “stitched beautifully” according to his parents. He is back to his independent, athletic self, playing with brothers Brian, 8, and Drew, 6, well on his way to a full recovery.

Shortly after his return home the Anderson’s invited the first responders from that evening over for a welcome home celebration. Many of those that responded came to see Nathan. They were overwhelmed by a greeting from nearly 40 family members and neighbors as well as Nathan who, other than his cast, looked like any other healthy 4 year old. Nathan’s call had been difficult to process for many of the responders and being invited to see him home and doing so well was a deeply appreciated gift. A few weeks later firefighters again saw Nathan, giving him and his brothers a ride to their first day of school in Ladder 1.

The Anderson family welcomed Southington’s emergency workers to a welcome home celebration.

The Andersons have received tremendous support from their family, friends, neighbors, and their church and Nathan’s story has a happy ending, and the family wanted to tell their story, getting the message out that what happened to them could happen to anyone.

In fact, a study done by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio found that nearly 4,800 children, an average of 13 per day, are injured annually in our nation by lawnmowers. More than 8 percent of those children’s injuries are serious enough for them to be admitted to the hospital. Doctors at CCMC told the Andersons that Nathan was the sixth lawn mower injury they had seen this summer.

This can, and does, happen to anyone. The study recommends children under 16 not operate a riding lawnmower and those under 12 not operate a push mower. Children under 6 should remain inside when these machines are being used.

Glenn Dube is a battalion chief for the Southington Fire Department.

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