Standing Strong for Children—Tanner’s Story
By Brian Miller, Assistant Fire Chief Neshkoro Fire Department
My son Tanner, 5 at the time of the accident, had always ridden with me while I mowed our lawn. Our lawn mower is a zero-turn mower with the deck below your feet. On Mon. Sept. 7, 2015 (Labor Day), Tanner was standing between my legs while we finished mowing the grass in our front yard down a small incline. For some unknown reason he jumped off the front of the mower. (He normally told me he wanted off and I would stop so he could.)
He tripped over the front cross member of the frame of the mower. As he was falling to the ground, I attempted to pull back on the controls to stop the mower while hitting the stop switch for the blade control. His right foot went under the deck of the mower with the blades still spinning. The blades ripped his shoe and sock off of his foot, and as he pulled his foot out from under the deck of the lawn mower, I could see much trauma done to his foot, which was profusely bleeding.
I yelled for my wife April as I jumped off of the mower and ran to get my emergency first responder medical bag out of my truck, which was parked about 30 feet away. April came running because she could hear Tanner’s screams and my daughter also screaming (Olivia was standing on the sidewalk by our house). I yelled for her to call 911. She called Marquette County 911 not yet knowing the full extent of what just happened.
Knowing I needed to control the bleeding, I started wrapping his foot, which didn’t seem to work at all! I kept wrapping and wrapping until the blood stopped coming through the bandages. I picked up Tanner’s big toe that was amputated and the other pieces of his foot that were laying in the yard. I had my wife get me a bag, towel and ice.
Knowing that Waushara County EMS provided coverage in our fire district, I called a good friend of mine, Jeff Sina who was working out of Wautoma that day. I made sure Jeff was responding, told him it was Tanner who was hurt, and described the extent of his injuries. Jeff told me he was going to fly Tanner. Being on the fire department and a first responder for the past 16 years, I now knew the feeling of how long it seems you have to wait for help to get to you.
The Neshkoro First Responders and Waushara County paramedics transported Tanner to the Neshkoro Fire station where the landing zone for ThedaStar was set up. Upon arriving at the ThedaCare Neenah hospital, I was taken to the room Tanner was in. Doctors had already done an x-ray and were preparing for surgery. Dr. Jeffrey Ralston, orthopedic surgeon, performed two surgeries on Tanner’s foot. Unfortunately he was unable to reattach Tanner’s big toe. Dr. Ralston and his team did an outstanding job stitching Tanner’s foot considering the injuries.
After being released from the hospital, Tanner was confined to a wheelchair for the first couple of weeks; he then used a walker and crutches.
The next challenge we faced was changing Tanner’s bandages. He didn’t want to see his foot due to all the swelling, stitches and his missing big toe. Two weeks after being released from the hospital, we went camping at a campground south of Montello. We meet a guy by the swings who asked what had happened to Tanner’s foot. I explained his foot had been run over by a lawn mower. Much to our surprise, this guy ran his own foot over with a lawn mower when he was 14 years old. We talked for a while, and he asked Tanner if he wanted to see his foot. Tanner told him no, but he showed him his old injury anyway. Telling him it would heal helped Tanner accept his injury. After that day Tanner allowed me to change his bandage and wash his foot.
Tanner had many doctors’ appointments. His one-month appointment after the accident was an important one; we had to meet with Dr. Ralston to determine if skin grafting would be necessary and when he could try to walk again. The night before his appointment, Tanner hid in his room and pulled out all the dissolvable stiches and scabs from his foot. He tried to walk on it to make sure Dr. Ralston would allow him to put his shoe on and walk again. Dr. Ralston determined Tanner’s foot had healed sufficiently to try walking again. He walked with a limp for a couple of weeks. Now, unless you see Tanner’s foot, you would not tell he has had a significant foot injury, He was one of the fastest runners on his t-ball team this past season.
The reason I want to talk about Tanner’s accident is that I do not want any child to go through the trauma Tanner had to experience. I can’t explain the pain I experienced as a parent who was the one operating something that injured his own child. I put my family through a lot of pain for allowing my children to ride on such a dangerous piece of equipment. Lawn mowers are extremely dangerous and children should not be riding on them or in the vicinity of one that is in operation. The safest place for a child is inside the house while you are mowing your lawns. Even if you are not mowing your lawn, children should still not be allowed to ride on the lawn mower because they think it is ok to ride on one at any time.
Tanner’s fall happened in the blink of an eye. It was an accident that could have been prevented. I never want another child to go through the pain and suffering that Tanner experienced. I am thankful for all of the care and support from everyone from the first responders, paramedics from Waushara County, the entire ThedaStar Team, ThedaCare hospital staff and for the trauma care training I had received through the 16 years of being a member of the local fire department, I never thought I would have had to use that training to tend to my own child. What is a familiar chore to many of us can turn into tragedy to our children that is easily preventable. Please, mow safe!