Manahl family, photoRyan Manahl is a strong advocate for lawn mower safety. 

“Thirteen children visit the emergency room each day with lawn mower injuries,” says Ryan, of Cedar Falls, Iowa. “Fifty-four percent of families with children under the age of 10 allow their kids to ride on a lawn mower – that was me. It’s part of our culture to allow our kids to be around this very heavy equipment with limited safety features.”

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 4,500 children were treated in U.S. emergency room for lawn mower-related injuries in 2016. Of the 75 people killed each year in lawn mower accidents, one in five is a child.

Ryan says children – particularly young children – should be kept indoors while the mower is in operation, and that they shouldn’t be riding, or even sitting, on mowers. While always cautious, Ryan wasn’t a particularly vocal advocate for lawn mower safety until Aug. 30, 2017, when the issue became a personal one. 

That day after work, Ryan got home and had to mow his lawn, as well as those of two of his neighbors. His wife, Fonda, took their youngest son, Tate, then 3, to pick up their older son, Cason, from school and to run a few errands. When Fonda and the boys got home, Ryan was already mowing a neighbor’s yard.

He didn’t see or hear Tate come running at him when the toddler got out of the car.

“I was backing up, looked over my right shoulder and felt I had run something over, but I knew there was nothing there,” he says. “I stopped and looked over my left shoulder, but it was too late.”

The lower half of Tate’s body was under the mower.

Ryan lifted the mower off his son while one neighbor called 911. Another neighbor rushed over and tied a tourniquet on Tate’s left leg. Tate sustained severe injuries to both of his legs and to his abdomen.

An ambulance arrived and rushed Tate to a Waterloo hospital. After he was stabilized, he was flown by helicopter to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital where surgeons worked for several hours to save the boy’s life and keep him from losing his legs.

“You never expect to see anything like that, especially with your child,” Ryan says. “He was only 3 at the time – he had always been afraid of sirens, so when I heard them coming I knew he was even more scared.

“I tried to keep him calm but I kept thinking the worst – ‘Is this really it? Is my son going to die in my arms right now and he hasn’t even started to live his life?’”

Joel Shilyansky, MD, surgeon-in-chief for UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, the state’s only Level 1 Trauma Center, led the trauma team that day. He says Tate was fortunate, and credits the quick actions of Ryan, the neighbors, and the first responders in helping him get to the hospital.

“He was lucky in some ways – Tate had severe injuries to the abdomen and both legs but the major blood vessels and nerves were spared,” Shilyansky says. “He could have easily died from the injuries, his most life-threatening injuries were those in his abdomen.”

The team of pediatric trauma surgeons, plastic surgeons, vascular surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologists, physical therapist, child life specialists and nurses came together and worked very hard to first save Tate’s life, then restore his legs, and finally help him recover so he could walk and lead a full life, Shilyansky says. 

“That’s why we have a trauma team, a trauma program and a statewide trauma system – it brings together a whole team of specialists who can provide expert care for injured children. Our goal is not only to save lives, but to provide a good quality of life,” Shilyansky says. “The goal with Tate once we knew he was going to survive was to make sure that he was going to walk, go fishing, and play ball in the future.”

Thanks to dozens of surgeries and procedures performed by orthopedic trauma surgeon Michael Willey, MD, and microvascular plastic surgeon Andrei Odobescu, MD, CM, and the “amazing” dedication of his parents, Tate is walking, Shilyansky says. His left leg has undergone most of its needed repair, and Ryan and Fonda will work with doctors to determine a plan for his right leg.

The Manahls are grateful for the care Tate received at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

“The doctors and staff were awesome, and in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) they really made us feel like family,” says Ryan. “They included us in everything, and let us get involved – which helped us and it helped Tate, too.”

“We are thankful for the whole hospital and staff,” he says. “You wish you wouldn’t have to go through with that, but they made it the best it could possibly be.”

Ryan and Fonda are also on a crusade to promote lawn mower safety.

“I don’t want any other family to go through what we’ve gone through,” Ryan says. “Lawn mower accidents are the No. 1 cause of childhood amputations.

“I used to say this was just a freak accident,” Ryan says, “but you look at the numbers and see it’s a ‘frequent’ accident, and one that can be prevented. It all starts with families, and keeping your kids inside when you’re mowing.”

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