AKRON, Ohio -- Roxy Kimberlin describes herself as an overprotective mother, the one her friends make fun of.

But even her attentiveness wasn't enough to protect her son, Conner, from a lawn mower accident that nearly amputated his leg a little more than a year ago.

Conner was 5 when he was playing in his Doylestown, Ohio, yard with his siblings and neighbors on St. Patrick's Day 2010, with his mom outside watching. In the adjoining yard, a neighbor was mulching leaves with a riding mower.

Suddenly two of the children ran out in front of the mower. Conner jumped off the glider where he was sitting to try to run after them, but he slipped. The mower blade caught his foot and pulled his entire body under the machine.

By what his mother insists was God's grace, his sturdy sneaker jammed the blade and saved his life. Nevertheless, the damage was extensive. Before it jammed, the blade cut nearly all the way through Conner's right leg, caused a spiral fracture of the femur and also broke bones in his foot and toes, Roxy Kimberlin said.

"I just never thought it would happen to us," she said. "I was right there."

'Devastating'

Conner is one of about 9,400 people 20 and younger who are injured by lawn mowers each year, according to a study published in 2006 in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

At about 11 injuries for every 100,000 children, mower accidents are hardly common. "But talk to the families that have had this happen to them. It's devastating," said Dr. Mark Adamczyk, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Akron Children's Hospital.

And it's almost always preventable, he said.

Adamczyk thinks one of the contributing factors is the casualness with which many of us regard lawn mowers. Most people use them for years without a problem, he said, so it's easy to forget how hazardous they can be. He even had a job mowing lawns when he was 12, he said.

But in fact, mowers are dangerous, even potentially deadly, for children and adults alike. Hot surfaces can cause contact burns. Mower blades can hack limbs. Gasoline can catch fire or explode. Objects thrown by spinning blades can hit people with the force of a gunshot.

Adamczyk and his fellow orthopedic surgeons at Children's Hospital have seen the traumatic results.

"We see at least a couple of kids (a year) who are mangled up pretty good," he said.

Often those serious injuries involve amputations or deep cuts contaminated by grass, dirt or gravel -- usually to the ankle or foot and sometimes higher on the leg. One child was treated at Children's Hospital several years ago after being punctured in the chest by a piece of metal catapulted by a mower blade.

Evan's story

It's not just the children who are affected, he said. Often the adults operating the mowers are left with crushing guilt.

What troubles Adamczyk is that the number of injures remains about the same year after year. To him, that indicates that the word isn't getting out about mower hazards, that nothing's being done to improve the situation.

One common scenario is people failing to see children behind them when they're backing their riding mowers, Adamczyk said.

That's what happened to Akron, Ohio, resident Evan Kerr, who lost three toes when his foot was run over by a mower driven by his father, Jonathan.

When the accident happened last May, Jonathan Kerr was mowing his parents' lawn in Hartville, Ohio, while they were out of town, his wife, Brianne, said. Evan, then 3, was on a bench on the front porch with his aunt.

When she went inside to get him a drink of water, Evan headed for the backyard with the hope of getting a ride on the mower, Brianne Kerr said. His father didn't know he was there. He looked behind him when he put the mower in reverse, but Evan was so small that Jonathan Kerr couldn't see him.

He heard a noise and thought he'd run over a tennis ball. "When he looked back, he found his (Evan's) shoe," Brianne Kerr said. "He saw it just in time" to stop the mower from backing completely over the boy.

Her voice quavered as she recalled the accident. She tries to remind herself that the results could have been much worse.

Take precautions

Brianne Kerr hopes the experience will save other families from the same heartache. She echoes Adamczyk's caution to make sure children are inside when a mower is in use and are supervised so they don't wander outdoors unnoticed.

Even if they don't approach the mower, they're at risk of being hit by projectiles from the mower blades if they're in the vicinity, Adamczyk noted.

"I would just not let my kids outside, period," Brianne Kerr said. "Ever."

Letting children ride on mowers is another common problem, Adamczyk said. If you hit a bump or the child squirms, the child can fall off. He or she could be hit by the blade or run over by one of the tires, and that force could break a leg or crush a chest or head, he said.

And as Evan Kerr's story shows, letting kids ride on a mower can make them regard it as something fun rather than as power equipment that only grown-ups should go near.

Luckily, both Evan and Conner Kimberlin have healed from their injuries. Evan can run, kick a ball and do pretty much anything other kids can, Brianne Kerr said. Conner favors his injured leg, but otherwise his mother described him as "completely fine."

Roxy Kimberlin keeps Conner's ripped and bloodied jeans and his mangled sneaker as a reminder of that day. She's passionate about telling everyone she can to keep children inside when a mower is in use and to make sure they wear sturdy shoes outdoors.

Still, she said, she cries over her son's injuries every night.

She knows he could have died -- should have died, she said, given the way he ended up under the mower.

"People don't take this seriously," she said. "... It's completely preventable. It's preventable."