It's a parent's worst nightmare.

A father from Forest Hill accidentally backed his lawn mower into his five-year-old daughter, severing her feet.

The accident happened at about 6:30 p.m. Monday when many in the neighborhood were out doing evening yard work, said Rich Gardiner, spokesman for The Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association.

The father didn't see the child when he put the mower in reverse, Gardiner said. He only heard her screams. The girl was flown to Johns Hopkins Children's Center where her feet could not be saved, he said.

The name of the family was not released and Hopkins officials declined to comment about the case citing privacy laws.

The house in the Kensington Farm development looked peaceful Tuesday. The only sign that anything had gone awry was the half-mowed backyard.

But neighbors remember the medical helicopter landing on their normally quiet street.

Homes in the neighborhood where suburbia meets farmland are separated by yards large enough for one woman to keep horses.

Charlie Sexton was working in his yard when he heard the lawn mower stop. When the helicopter came, he ran down the street to see about the commotion.

"It's real sad," said Sexton, who has lived there for seven years. "Nobody wants to see that happen to a little girl."

Linda Edwards wasn't home but heard about it from neighbors later Monday. She said the little girl often was outside with her father and younger sister.

"She is such beautiful little girl," she said. "It's just heartbreaking. And that poor father."

But Edwards found a positive in the accident.

"She is still with us," she said. "That is the important thing."

Lawn mower injuries are the leading cause of amputations in adolescents, according to Johns Hopkins Children's Center, which treats most of the region's pediatric traumas.

Such accidents send 9,400 U.S. children to the hospital each year. Most commonly they have cuts, fractures and amputations to the hands, feet and legs. About 95 percent of those treated at Hopkins between 2000 and 2005 were amputations that required reattachment or reconstructive surgery.

Limbs lost in lawn mower accidents often are harder to reattach because the cuts aren't smooth, said James Higgins, chief of the Curtis National Hand Center at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

"They are from clean cuts," Higgins said.

Contamination also is an issue, because the cuts may have too much dirt, which encourages bacterial growth, Higgins said. The location may also play a role on whether a limb can be saved.

Beyond the physical damage, many families have to grapple with the emotional impact as well.

"These injuries cause a lot of psychological angst in the family," Higgins said. "They don't realize the kid is there and that can be devastating."

Dr. Andrew Pollak, chief of Shock Trauma's orthopedics division, said feet are almost never reattached because they have a poor outcomes and prosthetics have become good. Doctors, however frequently try to save hands.

"Replanting legs and feet is really not very effective, even in kids," he said. "In the arms, we're in a position to regain some function in fingers, though not the same level of function as before, and some function in your hands is very important."

Pollak said the most important message about power mowers, however, "is more people need to be aware of the need to be extremely cautious when operating equipment. Be constantly aware.'

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/ankwalker

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts
  • Text BUSINESS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun Business text alerts