Patrick Flynn always let his two sons ride along on the family tractor while he worked in the fields on his four-acre farm in Carroll County.
The sociology professor never thought it could be dangerous until May 7 when his 2-year-old son, Rory, was run over by the tractor, forcing doctors at the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Shock Trauma Center to amputate his right foot.
"I thought I had killed my son when it happened," Mr. Flynn said yesterday at a news conference held at Johns Hopkins Children's Center to focus attention on what doctors call "an epidemic" of lawn mower accidents.
Two other children -- one from Baltimore and one from Cockeysville -- have also been severely injured in lawn mower accidents since April.
The children's center usually treats threechildren for lawn mower injuries in an entire summer.
"Lawn mower accidents are striking in their suddenness and tragedy," says Dr. Paul Sponseller, chief of pediatric orthopedics at the children's center. "Most people don't realize how serious they can be. Children suffer permanent damage, and the guilt among family members is tremendous."
Mr. Flynn, who teaches sociology at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, said he often gave his two sons rides on his tractor for fun. It never occurred to him that it could be dangerous until the day Rory was hurt.
"I was giving Rory a ride when I stopped to give Cameron, my other son, a turn," he said. "I was putting him down, when my foot slipped off the gas pedal, and the tractor lurched out of control. The next thing I know, it knocked him to the ground, and the blades ran over his legsas he was lying on the ground."
When Rory was flown to the hospital, doctors found that he had suffered extensive tissue and muscle loss in his left hip, knee and ankle and a severely damaged blood vessel in his right foot. After multiple reconstructive surgeries his left limb was saved, but his right foot had to be amputated.
"We've explained to Rory, and he understands that he lost his 'toes' and will get new ones from the doctor," Mr. Flynn said. "I don't think he fully understands what it means to lose a foot because he's so young, but I suppose that's a good thing."
Doctors will fit Rory with a prosthetic foot for his right leg and expect him to walk and eventually run again in the future.
But Dr. Sponseller said accidents such as Rory's are totally preventable. "These things can happen very suddenly," he said. "Kids just shouldn't be on mowers."
About 19,000 people are injured every year in lawn mower accidents, and more than 15 percent of the injuries are to children, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Dr. Sponseller said manufacturers and state agencies should teach people about the dangers when amower or tractor is purchased. He urged parents to keep children indoors while the grass is being cut and said children should never be given rides on mowers or tractors.
"I wish I had listened to his advice," said Mr. Flynn, whose son was released from the hospital June 10.
"I hope other people will learn from our tragedy," he said. "We just hope we can help another family prevent this from happening to their own children."
Lawn mower safety
Dr. Paul Sponseller,chief of pediatric orthopedics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, recommends the following rules for lawn mowing safety:
* Children under 14 should not operate a lawn mower.
* Children should never ride on a mower.
* Children under 5 should be kept indoors when a mower is in use.
* Children should be kept clear of an operating mower.
* Adults should be familiar with the workings of the mower.
* Lawn mower brakes should receive annual maintenance.