Chesterville boy, 6, recovering well at CHEO after losing most of his foot in lawnmower accident

The Ornge air ambulance prepares to fly away with Bryce Stuart, 6, in Chesterville, last Saturday, June 1. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Benefit dance planned June 15th

CHESTERVILLE — Six-year-old Bryce Stuart made his first foray out of his hospital bed at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) yesterday, taken by wheelchair to an arts and activity and room with his parents at his side.

The little boy is on the mend after losing much of his right foot when he approached his father, Darren Stuart, who was operating a riding lawnmower at the family home in Chesterville on Saturday morning.

He didn’t see his son until it was too late.

“His father was looking over one shoulder … and he ran over him,” family friend Karen Parker, authorized to speak on the distraught parents’ behalf, said yesterday evening.

The boy was airlifted to hospital minutes after the accident. Chesterville firefighter Mark McMillan happened to be going by the Main Street North scene and lent immediate assistance. Other first responders — SD&G OPP officers and other firefighters — quickly arrived and temporarily closed the road to accommodate the landing of the air ambulance about half a kilometre further north of the home.

Parker said the boy has apologized from his hospital bed to his emotional father for what happened. “Dad, I’m not mad at you, I shouldn’t have been there,” she also reported the boy as saying.

“He feels so guilty,” she added later of the father, despite it being an obvious accident.

Bryce is recovering well after doctors removed a mangled front portion of his foot, with another surgery scheduled in eight weeks to amputate the rest of the appendage back to his ankle, according to Parker. He currently has a club-like blue cast over his injured limb, she said.

The Grade One student at Chesterville Public School is expected back home as early as this Thursday if he continues to progress. (Update: He’s now set to return later today, June 4, according to the family.)  The boy had a slight fever yesterday, and Parker said CHEO’s infectious disease team has been monitoring him closely for infection. He did receive a blood transfusion after arrival, “which perked him right up,” she said.

Parker, who is dating Bryce’s uncle, has communicated with the boy in hospital. She and another family friend, Christina Vanier, have organized a benefit dance June 15 at the Chesterville Legion. Parker explained that Bryce’s father grew up in Winchester and works as a dump truck driver for a Metcalfe firm that hasn’t been very busy lately. The boy’s mother, Jennifer Roberts, originally from Morewood, suffers from regular seizures that keep her at home.

They have immediate out-of-pocket costs associated with the aftermath of the accident, Parker noted, adding the situation has also turned the family’s lives upside down. The couple’s two older daughters are currently staying with other family members while their parents attend to Bryce in hospital.

It’s still early days, and they don’t know how long it might be before their injured son is able to walk on a prosthetic. “We don’t know what his transportation situation will be,” added Parker, who has set up a trust fund with Vanier at the Winchester BMO branch.

Tickets to the benefit dance are selling for $20 each from the organizers as well as Kelly Robinson (see event poster above). The event is open to all ages.  “We live in such a wonderful, amazing, giving, supportive community,” Parker, a Chesterville resident, confidently observed.

She said that auctioneer Brandon Scheepers has agreed to call the live auction portion of the evening, while Kent and Cindy Merkley have offered to DJ the dance.

The injury sustained by Bryce is all too typical, according to John Brooks, Florida-based founder of a Facebook support group for people affected by lawnmower accidents. The local boy’s case has been shared on the Lawnmower Accident Support and Prevention page, and “there are people all over the world praying for that child,” he said.

“Make no mistake, it’s a life-long injury,” said Brooks, whose organization promotes keeping children inside during lawnmowing.

After such an injury, “there can be infection issues,” he cautioned, adding that recovery usually involves multiple surgeries as well.

Brooks said he set up the Facebook page when a neighbour girl lost both her legs in what the media deemed a “freak” lawnmower accident. “I thought there would be no more after that,” he said, but “these injuries are frequent, not freak.”

He was also inspired to establish a company — Little Feet Safety Systems — to produce wearable technology that automatically shuts off lawnmowers and other equipment when a child approaches. 

In the U.S. alone, over 17,000 children are involved in lawnmower accidents annually. It’s the number one cause of child amputations — 9,000 each year.

The blade of a lawnmower “impacts with the force of a .357 Magnum,” he pointed out.

And yet, “it’s a very unwitting accident in our culture,” he said, noting that 54 percent of American parents with children under 10 allow their little ones to ride along while mowing the lawn. Children are often run over by lawn mowers while trying to hitch a ride from a parent who doesn’t see them.

“Awareness alone hasn’t worked in 50 years,” said Brooks. “There is fantastic technology out there that could allow us to do something about it.”

Below, the air ambulance disembarks from Chesterville with 6-year-old Bryce Stuart.

Meanwhile, Bryce’s father spoke with NVN this afternoon to report that his son is due to return home later today, June 4. “The physio guy couldn’t believe how fast he was going up and down the room with a walker,” Darren Stuart said.

The boy will have to use that walker for the next while. He will return to CHEO next week to have his cast replaced and drain tubes removed from his wounds, his father added.

And the latest news on the planned fundraiser also looks bright. “My phone has been ringing steady,” said Parker. “The tickets are going fast. I have people calling and asking for 10 and 15 at a time. It’s unreal.”

This article was edited to correct the surname of Bryce’s mother and to reflect new comments from Darren Stuart and Karen Parker.

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