POWHATAN, Va. -- It was the first week of school for children across the state this week, but for one Powhatan boy, starting preschool is the result of what his parents call a miracle.
“It’s always constantly in the forefront of my mind,” said Sean Sullivan, Rowan's father. “Ceiling fans remind me of it, driving around in the car, driving the same route that we took going to the hospital.”
Last year, Sean was riding on a lawnmower in his backyard with his three-year-old son, Roan, in his lap.
“Roan would always ride with me, and it was one of our favorite things and he wanted to go inside and get a bottle and so I let him off,” Sean said. “So I was like ok, now’s my chance, I’m going to pick up speed and get it done,” he said. “As I’m mowing I’m still looking back behind me to my left, as I’m going backwards because the kids are in the house and that’s to the left.”
What Sean didn’t know is that Roan sneaked back outside - and stood waiting in a blind spot.
“I start to wheel backwards and swing, and as I'm looking back behind me, he was back and to my right,” said Sean. “As soon as I hit him I knew that it should not have happened. I immediately stood up and I saw him, and he was right there. He’s looking up at me, he’s really confused.”
Sean said what happened next is blur.
“I don’t even remember how I got him out from underneath. I honestly don’t know how I got him in the car,” he said. “All I can remember is just running inside, screaming ‘Melissa let’s go!’”
Sean and his wife, Melissa, raced their little boy to the closest emergency room.
“We burst out of the car and ran into the emergency room and he was still alive. We thought we had lost him in the car twice,” said Sean.
It was a frantic, but fleeting moment of relief.
“We burst out of the car and ran into the emergency room and he was still alive. We thought we had lost him in the car twice,” he said.
Roan’s injuries were so severe, paramedics had to rush him to VCU Medical Center.
“His foot was completely... it looked like a bomb had gone off, and his arm... the same thing. It was just the gravest of injuries,” Sean said. “We were very fortunate that there was a more advanced ambulatory team and they were right across the street at a Wawa. They just so happened to be there.”
Sean recalls arriving to a room full of doctors.
“I just remember it was the closest thing to walking into heaven because they were all wearing their white coats. They looked like angels to me and this is the worst moment in my entire life,” he said.
Among them was Doctor Jonathan Issacs, chief of the division of hand surgery. He knew they needed to start operating on Roan immediately.
“I happened to be on call the night that he came in,” said Dr. Issacs. “Roan was a particularly dramatic case. I think everyone gets a little bit more emotional when it’s a child.”
Roan remained in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU for the next five weeks. Doctors had to amputate his right foot, but managed to save his right arm and hand.
Roan now visits with Dr. Issacs so they can figure out what’s working and what’s not, but his recovery has been remarkable.
“He will most likely do fine no matter what happens because of that inner energy and inner spirit,” Dr. Issacs said.
Sean and Melissa say that strong spirit has helped him so far, and his fearlessness will propel him forward.
“Little kids will ask him, ‘what happened to your arm?’ And he goes ‘I’m tough!’,” Melissa said. “He seems like the same little boy that he was before the accident.”
Roan still even helps his dad in the yard.
“We have a push mower now and Roan goes out, he has a little push mower and he’ll follow Sean along right with it,” Melissa said.
A father and son working to reclaim their favorite spot together.
“It’s sad but you always just got to remember how good he’s doing,” Sean said.
The Sullivans say the accident brought their family closer together and they want to raise awareness about lawnmower accidents - one of the leading causes of amputations for children in the U.S.
“I always thought I was the most protective helicopter parent there is and the circumstances just lined up in the worst possible way," Sean said.
They hope by sharing their story, they can prevent another accident from happening.