When sharpened shanks of metal whirling at 2,900 rotations per minute slam into skin and bone, there’s not much guesswork involved in determining winner and loser.
University of Virginia surgeon Dr. Mark Romness knows the outcome first hand. In the past two months, he’s treated three children for serious injuries from lawnmowers that sheared bone, shattered limbs and, in the case of a Stuarts Draft first-grader, resulted in an amputation.
“Injuries from a lawnmower can be devastating,” Romness said. “There was one incident several years ago where a lawnmower hit a screwdriver and sent it over the house and it struck a child in the head. People need to make sure that, if there is a lawnmower running in the yard, the kids are in the house. That’s the bottom line. People need to hear that.”
The three UVa patients are among an estimated 17,000 children injured each year by riding and push mowers, according to the Pediatric Orthopedic Society of North America.
Statistics show an estimated 80,000 adults and 4,500 children are injured seriously enough by lawnmowers each year that they seek treatment in emergency departments. The U.S. Consumer Product Commission estimates that, in an average year, lawnmowers will cause 7,500 finger amputations, 2,600 toe amputations, 2,400 cases of muscles, tendons or limbs being torn away, 11,450 fractures, 51,400 lacerations and 2,300 contusions.
Reports surface every year of children run over by riding lawnmowers that were moving in reverse or mowers tipping over on the operator. The safety commission cites riding mowers as the largest source of mower injuries. Boys under 16 make up the vast majority of those injured, according to the commission.
“All three injuries treated at UVa so far this year involved riding mowers,” Romness said. “A lot of times, it’s the kid running out toward the mower, slipping and going under the mower, or the operator not knowing the child is behind the mower and putting it in reverse and running them over.”
Studies by the orthopedic society, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show objects — from sticks and stones to nuts and bolts — can become mower-propelled missiles, resulting in serious and sometimes fatal injuries.
With an engine speed of about 2,900 rotations per minute, the mower blades spin about 48 times a second at an estimated speed of 200 mph. Studies show the mower blades can throw rocks and objects at nearly 400 feet per second and strike with the blunt-force impact equal to the energy of a bullet from a .357 magnum revolver.
Although the bullet is traveling faster, the larger size and weight of most lawnmower projectiles strike with similar or even greater force, numerous studies show.
For adults, the injuries can mean a long recuperation and rehabilitation. For children, the injuries can mean coping with surgeries, pain or disability for life.
“A child’s bones are still growing, and the high energy of the blades when they strike bone can stop the growth of the bone in the area that was struck," Romness said. "Meanwhile, the other part of the bone continues to grow with the child. That can make the bone grow angulated and cause recurring problems as a child gets older.”
According to the NIH, lawnmowers can injure through severe cuts, burns from hot engines, broken and shattered bones and infections caused by soil-encrusted blades or hurled objects that have been on the ground for long periods of time.
Friends and family of 6-year-old Stuarts Draft boy Rylan Pool, who was injured May 18 and treated by Romness, have created a GoFundMe account called Rally for Ryan Pool to help the family pay past, present and future medical bills.
“Rylan Pool was involved in an accident with a lawn mower and underwent emergency surgery at UVa, in which his leg had to be amputated below the knee,” organizers said in the fundraiser description. “He will have a long road to recovery, with many costs involved.”
The fund has raised $32,839 of a $50,000 goal. The site may be found at gofundme.com/f/rally-for-rylan-pool.