Dad, doctor warn about the danger of lawn mowers for kids

Dad, doctor warn about the danger of lawn mowers for kids
Liam Leffelman

Just a month ago, six-year-old Liam Leffelman’s life changed forever on what seemed like a normal summer day at his grandmother’s house.

“Grandma wanted to give rides on the lawn mower,” Kevin Leffelman said. “He took a ride…. and then it was his little brother’s turn.”

That’s when tragedy struck for the “vibrant” Cottage Grove boy.

“I started to follow them,” Liam said. “Then I tripped and she had to reverse, and then she ran over my leg.”

Liam was rushed to American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, with doctors not knowing if they would be able to save his right leg.

“We actually went into surgery a week after it happened to have it amputated,” Kevin Leffelman said.

But after the surgery, Liam discovered a miracle.

“First thing he did was rip the blanket off of his foot (and said) ‘those are my toes!’,” Kevin Leffelman said.

Leffelman said Liam’s leg healed better than doctors ever thought it could.

But even after more than a dozen surgeries, including an operation Friday, doctors said Liam will never regain full function in his leg.

“I probably won’t be able to run as fast as I used to,” Liam said.

Doctors said Liam’s wounds were extensive.

“He lost a lot of muscle, he lost a lot of skin, about half his heel,” Dr. Ken Noonan, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at UW Health, said.

Noonan said Liam now wears a device on his leg called an external fixator.

“It’s going to be on for another month, and that’s holding his bones in alignment,” Noonan said. “At some point, there will be skin grafts taken from one part of his body to put over this, we’re just waiting for the tissue to be perfect for that.”

Until then, Liam has to visit the hospital every few days for surgeries to clean out the wound on his leg. Friday’s surgery was Liam’s 14th, according to his dad.

Noonan said Liam has kept a positive attitude throughout his recovery process.

“When he first came in, he was timid and shocky and scared, but basically he’s turned into the mayor now,” Noonan said. “Everybody has commented how confident he his, how directive he is in his own healthcare, how positive he is.”

Noonan said he’s seen too many kids like Liam lately, injured by lawn mowers in what he called a “preventable” accident.

“The national statistics show that last year there were at least 15,000 children in the United States injured by lawn mowers,” Noonan said. “If you do the math, that’s going to be close to 300 children in Wisconsin alone.”

Noonan said those statistics represent a three percent increase in lawn mower injuries from 2009.

Noonan said injuries often result from accidents involving riding lawn mowers.

He said those injuries range from anywhere to a simple burn from touching the muffler to rollovers and instances like Liam’s, where a child has been run over by a lawn mower.

That’s why Noonan and Liam’s dad said they’re sharing his story, hoping to spread the word to parents that kids shouldn’t be around running mowers.

“Keep the kids inside when you’re mowing the lawn,” Leffelman said. “This is not fun at all.”

“When it comes to mowing the yard, it’s for the whole family to be aware that it’s going down and that the children are not to be outside, period,” Noonan said. “Whether you have to lock the doors, or whether another adult has to make sure they stay in the house, they just have to be inside.”

Noonan said when it comes to push mowers, guidelines say no child under the age of 12 should operate a push lawn mower.

He said when it comes to riding mowers, no one younger than 16 and without proper training should ride one.