Jason Duaine Hahn
May 16, 2018 03:59 PM

A 5-year-old girl from Indiana is recovering after losing her foot when a family member accidentally ran over it while driving a lawn mower.

Italia McAllister and her younger brother were playing in her grandparents’ yard last Tuesday evening when they ran toward a lawn mower driven by a family member. When the relative put the machine into reverse, they didn’t notice the two children playing. Italia was knocked to the ground by the machine and her left foot was run over.

“I knew she was hurt — the sound I heard and seeing her laying on the ground, I knew something was wrong,” Italia’s father, Cody McAllister, 27, tells PEOPLE. “I ran to her screaming, and I still hadn’t seen anything yet. I picked her up and that’s when I noticed her foot.”

Italia McAllister
Robyn McAllister

The machine’s blades ripped through Italia’s left foot, causing her to bleed profusely from the severely injured extremity.

“I was hysterical. I was screaming, yelling and crying that we had to do something,” Cody, from Elkhart, Indiana, remembers. “I ran her to the back door by the garage and my dad came running out with towels and everything else and we stopped the bleeding.”

Italia McAllister
Robyn McAllister

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After calling 911 for help, the family decided to put Italia in a car and rush her to a nearby hospital. Once there, she was transported to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, but the damaged foot couldn’t be saved.

Her foot was amputated just above the young girl’s ankle, and Italia has remained in the hospital ever since.

“She has her ups and downs. Most days are better than some,” Cody says of his daughter’s progress. “We took her outside yesterday and she had a blast, but today she was down about everything and wanted to stay in her bed. But for the most part, she is staying happy.”

Italia has already begun physical therapy, and her mother, Robyn, recently posted a video of her navigating the hospital using her miniature walker.

Cody says Italia loves cheerleading and dancing, and has always had an adventurous side to her. Though she is now missing a foot and faces a long recovery process, Italia is still smiling and staying positive despite her circumstances. With the help of a prosthetic, the family says Italia will one day be able to run, jump and cheer once again.

Cody and Robyn are doing their best to stay strong during Italia’s stay in the hospital, which they expect will last another few weeks.

“It was really hard at first, but we have to stay positive, we’re staying in high spirits for her and for us, we just have to keep her motivated,” he says. “We’re handling it as best as we can. We’re taking it a second at a time — not a minute at a time, not a day — but a second at a time.”

According to a 2017 report from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, lawn mower-related injuries send 13 children to the hospital every day — totaling some 4,800 children a year.

The study recommends that the best way to prevent injuries from lawn mowers is by using the automatic safety measures set up in the machine, and by using shields near the base of the mower to keep extremities from being sucked underneath. Yet, the center says the most important thing families can do is keep their yards a “kid-free zone” when a lawn mower is in use.

Italia McAllister
Robyn McAllister

The family has recently set up a GoFundMe page to help with Italia’s medical expenses, which will be used to pay off bills and for a prosthetic foot when she is ready.

The family hopes Italia’s story can raise awareness about lawn mower safety and potentially save other children’s lives or spare them the pain of serious injury.

“Keep your kids inside, keep them as far away as you can,” Cody says. “Anything can happen, and quick.”

As far as the family member who was driving the lawn mower, Cody says the couple holds no ill will toward them, and believe forgiveness is the best way to move forward.

“They’re pretty torn up, they’re beating themselves up pretty good,” he says. “We’re trying to stay positive with that, too, and give them support. It truly was an accident — it was all in a blink of an eye.”

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