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Ireland's walk on prosthetic legs is first step in years-long process

Ireland Nugent used new prosthetic legs Tuesday to walk through her family's front door in Palm Harbor, just yards from where her lower legs and feet were amputated in a lawn mower accident 10 weeks ago.

Two-year-old Ireland took her first steps on a set of test prostheses Monday at Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates in Orlando. Tuesday, they picked up the finished limbs.

"She just couldn't wait to throw them on and start walking again," said Ireland's father, Jerry Nugent. "It didn't last as long as (Monday) because she's a little tired. She's using those muscles, so she's got to get strong again."

But for all the smiles and tears of pure joy, Ireland's progress marks a bittersweet milestone for her father, who accidentally backed over the curly-haired, blue-eyed girl with his riding lawn mower on April 11.

"It does make all the pain of the tragedy less than it was," Jerry said, but added, "I can't really see myself getting over this."

Ireland will make many visits to Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates over the years. At first, she will need new prostheses about every three months, said her mother, Nicole Nugent. And while doctors inserted cartilage at the end of Ireland's stumps to slow bone growth, Nicole said Ireland could face more surgeries as she grows.

POA administrator Stephanie Kingston said the facility typically encourages gait training for older patients who get prosthetic legs. But children often don't need a lot of physical therapy.

"Ireland showed (Monday) that she's pretty strong and can just get up and go, so I don't know that she would need a lot of it, if any," she said.

As soon as technicians affixed the test limbs Monday, Ireland took off walking while holding parallel bars or the hands of relatives. She insisted on keeping the test limbs overnight and practiced taking them off and on in the family's hotel room.

"She really wants to learn how to do it all by herself," Jerry said. "She wants to be independent."

On Tuesday morning, Ireland was reluctant to give technicians the test limbs back until her mother explained that she was getting an upgrade to a lighter, carbon fiber, laminated pair featuring Dora the Explorer fabric on the left leg and Minnie Mouse fabric on the right.

But there won't be any trips to the playground just yet. Jerry said the family plans to "take it slow," walking Ireland around the house until her hip muscles again grow accustomed to bearing her weight and she figures out how to properly balance without assistance.

Because Ireland is too young to fully communicate what she's feeling, the family will return to Orlando next week so prosthetists can use sensors to check the limbs for pressure points.

Ireland's parents said the cost of her new limbs is mostly covered by insurance. The nonprofit organization 50 Legs covered co-pays and has offered to pay future prosthesis costs.

A prosthetic leg socket and foot for a child Ireland's age typically costs about $7,000 to $9,000, Kingston said. Double that for Ireland, who needs two. However, she said, as Ireland grows, the $4,000 leg sockets will likely need replacement more often than the artificial feet, which last 18 months or more.

Specialty limbs for things like running or swimming are more expensive and typically not covered by insurance.

The family has already begun using some of the nearly $120,000 in donations from the community to pay off medical bills, Jerry said.

"We just feel so blessed to have so many wonderful people and organizations in our lives," he said. "I don't see that ending any time soon. We're surrounded by love."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com.

How to help

Donations in the form of checks or money orders may be sent to the Nugents' home at 560 Hollow Ridge Road, Palm Harbor, Florida, 34683. Please do not send cash.

Ireland's walk on prosthetic legs is first step in years-long process 06/18/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 1:40am]
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