TAMPA — His little girl was asleep Monday afternoon, and someone asked Jerry Nugent what he would tell her when she woke up.
Nugent paused, and as he started talking, his voice broke.
"I just want to hear her say she loves me and hug her," he said. "You know, that's it. … She's my angel, you know. The tragedy of it, I've got to work through, but when she opens her eyes and she sees me and she smiles and says she loves me and when we hold each other, a lot of pain that's in me right now is going to leave."
It was the first time Nugent had spoken publicly since the accident last week that left him sobbing on the front lawn of their Palm Harbor home. Unaware that his 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Ireland, was toddling after him, Nugent had put his riding lawn mower in reverse, accidentally running over the child's legs.
On Monday, Ireland was recovering from successful surgery at Tampa General Hospital to close the wounds on her legs, both of which were amputated mid calf, according to the family pastor, Dennis Reid. Doctors kept her under anesthesia Monday night and planned to begin waking her up this morning.
Prosthetics experts say if the child's wounds heal properly, she could get fitted for artificial limbs in as soon as a month and begin walking in as little as six to eight weeks.
Ireland's story has prompted an outpouring of donations, prayers and well wishes from the community. Trinity Presbyterian Church in Clearwater, where the family worships, has collected more than $16,000 in the past four days.
In addition, amputee Steve Chamberland has committed to the family that his foundation, 50 Legs, will pay for her prosthetic legs. Chamberland, who appeared with Ireland's parents at a news conference Monday, said he has about $70,000 in his fund and will continue raising money.
The Nugents have health insurance. Mr. Nugent works for Pinellas County and Mrs. Nugent is a church preschool director. But out-of-pocket costs for the surgeries, hospital care and Bayflite could be steep.
Prosthetics for below-the-knee amputees can run $6,000 to $10,000 each, and growing children may need new ones every year.
Mrs. Nugent said she'd been heartened by the support.
"The support from the community is beyond anything I could have imagined," she said. "When they told me people were interested in our story and what was happening, I was like, 'Why? We're nobody. We're not famous, we're just people.' I guess people just really care about other people. It kind of shows the world really isn't as bad as you think it is."
Mrs. Nugent spoke positively about her daughter's physical recovery. She added that they would get a psychologist to speak with Ireland after she wakes up. Right after the accident, as she lay on the lawn, Ireland asked where her legs were.
"I don't know how to answer that question for her," said Mrs. Nugent. "The good thing is, she's 2. So we don't have to go into great detail. She'll take a very simple answer from us."
Mrs. Nugent spoke at a press conference last week, but her husband stayed silent. On Monday, he spoke up to praise Chamberland, whom he said deserved a halo. Chamberland, an ex-wrestler who lost his leg in a motorcycle accident, told him that Ireland would recover and thrive.
"I couldn't argue with him," Mr. Nugent said. "He's made it feel very true and honest."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.