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'Nothing will hold her back': 2-year-old mower accident victim walks on new legs

Ireland Nugent, 2, walks on her prosthetic legs while holding the hands of her mother, Nicole, and sister, Italia Nesbitt, 11, at Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates in Orlando on Monday. Ireland lost her lower legs and feet in an accident in April.
Ireland Nugent, 2, walks on her prosthetic legs while holding the hands of her mother, Nicole, and sister, Italia Nesbitt, 11, at Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates in Orlando on Monday. Ireland lost her lower legs and feet in an accident in April.
Published Jun. 18, 2013

ORLANDO — Perhaps it was the pretty Dora the Explorer stickers and the pink Velcro sneakers. Perhaps it was the prayers of her dozens of supporters. Perhaps it was just her resilient, spitfire nature.

But 2-year-old Ireland Nugent didn't hesitate a moment when technicians attached prostheses to her legs Monday. As soon as they set her on her new feet, she took off walking, looking up to flash a grin at the cameras trained on her.

The Superman cape she was wearing turned out to be just the right costume for the day.

"I'm just speechless and so proud," said her teary-eyed father, Jerry Nugent, his voice cracking. "She took it over the top. ... She's not ever going to hold back. That's my superhero. That's my angel."

The curly-haired Palm Harbor girl lost her lower legs and feet in April when her father accidentally backed over her on his riding lawn mower. On Monday, he hit record on his cellphone as Ireland stood and walked for the first time on new prostheses.

And when the prosthetist, Stan Patterson, indicated that he would need the test limbs back, Ireland spoke up:

"I want to keep my legs," she said.

So she was allowed to keep them and practice in her hotel room until she can receive her finished prostheses — one Minnie Mouse-themed and the other featuring Dora the Explorer — this afternoon.

Ireland had been fussy at the beginning of the five-hour fitting appointment Monday, and the experts at Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates had warned that the girl, like most toddler patients, might be unwilling to walk with her new legs and feet.

But she sat quietly in her mother's lap and watched intently as the prosthetist slid the tight black sleeves up her thighs, then adjusted the attached clear plastic limbs over her stumps.

And then she started walking, holding to parallel bars and then to the hands of her mother, Nicole, and 11-year-old sister, Italia Nesbitt. The unsteady toddler fell over once, but got right back up.

The onlookers in the room, who seemed to be holding their collective breath, applauded, while some, including Ireland's brother and sister, wiped away tears.

A caravan of media, family and friends followed Ireland and her parents to Orlando on Monday. Among those who joined them was Jennica Baker, 23, of Seminole, who lost her right leg at age 2 when she slipped on rain-slicked grass and fell under her father's riding lawn mower. Baker, who walks on a prosthetic leg, joined the Nugents at Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates to lend support.

"We wanted to let her know everything would be okay," Baker said. "Mine happened at the same age, and she's not going to have vivid memories. She's going to live a normal life. I did."

As they waited for the test limbs to be ready Monday, Ireland's mother described a cascade of emotions.

"Excited. Scared. Saddened that we even have to be doing this, but at the same time happy that we are able to do this," Nicole said.

Neighbor Aly Smith, who is credited with helping save Ireland's life by applying pressure to her wounds, accompanied the family Monday.

"I'm excited to see her walk again," said Smith, 30, a nurse. "It will be nice to see her come full circle and start the last days of recovery."

Smith said she wasn't surprised at how quickly the toddler seemed to bounce back from such a traumatic injury. "Nothing will hold her back."

And there will be a lot for Ireland to tackle as she moves forward.

at first she will need new prosthetics about every three months, her mother said. 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.

The process of getting the prosthetics and meeting other amputees has given Nicole hope about her daughter's future, she said.

"I almost felt life was over for her, but it really isn't," Nicole said. "If she wants to do ballet or gymnastics or ride a bike or rock climb, she'll be able to do it."

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153.

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