Dundalk mother urges power mower regulations after accident

August 26, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Last May, 3-year-old Christina Welsh nearly lost her right arm when she fell off a tractor lawn mower driven by an adult family member.

She was riding on the mower with her 4 1/2 -year-old brother when they both fell off. He fell clear of the mower, but her hand went into the blades.

She was rushed to Union Memorial Hospital, where doctors saved the child's arm by surgically putting a pin in her elbow joint, grafting skin from her leg and applying a series of casts that went from her right shoulder to her badly mangled hand.

Last week, Christina's mother looked out her kitchen window and saw a neighbor's barefoot child cutting grass with a power mower.

"I thought, 'My God, it could happen again, other kids could go through this,' " Gay Welsh said.

So began the Dundalk mother's efforts to see legislation passed prohibiting young children from riding on tractor mowers or playing near them.

Mrs. Welsh said that she will push for legislation prohibiting children under 12 years old from operating power mowers and children under 8 years old from playing within 15 feet of them when they are operating. Even stones thrown out by the rotary blades pose a danger, she said.

"I have a child who still can't ride a tricycle, she can't run, she can't play by herself outside because her arm is still too fragile," Mrs. Welsh said. "If a law would prevent even one more accident, it would be worth it."

She gathered the addresses of the four state legislators who represent her Dundalk community and pledged to write and call them in the weeks ahead to persuade one of them to sponsor her proposed law.

She also is writing to health groups, such as the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, to enlist endorsements of the measure.

A mother of three children whose husband, Donald, is a millwright at Bethlehem Steel, she describes herself as "a real big mouth."

She has never been involved in politics before but said that her daughter's accident has opened her eyes to how often such mishaps occur -- and left her determined to prevent them.

"If my daughter hadn't been hurt, I never would have thought much about it. But now I can't think about anything else," she said. "I see kids all the time who are 6, 7 and 8 years old out there with power mowers cutting the grass."

She compared the legislation with the law that requires motorists to strap young children into safety seats.

State Delegate Louis L. DePazzo, D-Baltimore County, who represents Dundalk, stopped short of saying he would sponsor the power mower legislation but said that he probably would vote in favor of it.

He added that he could see few obstacles to getting the bill through the General Assembly.

"The seat belt law just flew through the legislature," he said.

Mr. DePazzo added, "Something like that, the General Assembly would just be stumbling all over itself to support."

State Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., who also represents Dundalk, added that he would be receptive to such a measure.

"It sounds like its worth looking at, worth considering," he said.

Stacey Reuben, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said the commission estimates that 2,739 children under age 15 were injured by tractor mowers and power mowers in 1990.

Lynn Cook, a spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins Hospital, said the hospital treats about six children each summer for injuries from power mower accidents.

Amy Strong, a spokeswoman for Union Memorial, said that hospital has treated about 40 patients for foot injuries from lawn mowers and seven patients for hand injuries from lawn mowers since Memorial Day. Both numbers are slight increases over last year, she said.

About half those treated for hand injuries were children, she added.

"Every year, we try to get the word out for the need for safety because it's just tragic the cases we see coming in here," she said. "Lost fingers, lost toes; it's just gruesome."

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