PALM HARBOR, Fla. - You could hear the cheers from her neighbors house in Palm Harbor as little Ireland Nugent finally pulled into her driveway. As her parents started to take her out of the car all the attention got a bit overwhelming, the two year old burst into tears. Her father Jerry held Ireland patting her back and soothing her saying,"It's ok, are you read to come home?"
Soon she was smiling again when mother Nicole took Ireland into her bedroom. It was a room filled with love. Ballons from well wishers and bags and bags of gifts brought home from the hospital filled the little girl's room.
Ireland's life changed forever April 10th. Her father was mowing the lawn with his riding lawnmower and thought Ireland was in the back patio behind a locked door. Somehow she got out and he accidentally backed over her, not understand why his wife was signaling to him with her hands. Ireland's feet were amputated and part of her hand had been cut by the blade of the mower.
Since then the family has been at Tampa General Hospital. They had no idea neighbors had planned such an elaborate homecoming. Their home was filled with people, there was food fit for a king, and at least two cakes, one a princess one, and the other heart shaped. It was all to show Ireland how much her community loves her.
"I never imagined coming home to all this today," said Nicole. "I thought we would have a small little family gathering and it turned out that everyone we love is here. It really does help heal the heart to know that all these people are here to support my daughter. There are times I didn't think I could go on but I look around and I know that I can."
Both Nicole and Jerry said they didn't expect this homecoming.
"For me, we are going to get the help we need. We've got a lot of people reaching to us, we are going to get the help to get past this," said Jerry.
The family invited us to share their joy as well as Ireland's first hours back in the arms with those she loves. Grandma Doreen DelCorpo couldn't get enough.
"I'm sorry, I can't let go of her. The lord blessed us with letting her live through it and everything else we can deal with and we are dealing. She is home and we are ecstatic," said DelCorpo.
Nicole's father Mike DelCorpo said they can now move forward.
"It has been so hard not to see her. We have been here at the house, to help Jerry and Nicole take care of the other kids (the couple has seven). We have not been able to see Ireland that much, so to have her here smiling and happy it more than words can describe," said DelCorpo.
Grandmother Maxola Goebel feels the same.
"I came here that night in my pajamas. I just couldn't believe it. Having her back here with us is so special, so special," Goebel said.
But there is a long road ahead. Family and friends helped the Nugent's prepare the house. There is a wheelchair ramp and adjustments have been made to their car.
But there's still more to do, but Jerry feels in his heart his baby will be ok. He really hasn't been back home since the accident. He couldn't bear thinking about the night he accidentally ran over Ireland with his riding lawnmower, but he doesn't dread being here anymore.
"It is always in the back of my mind and of course when I look at my daughter and I can see it, but there are so many good things that have happened over the past three weeks after the accident that you can't be negative," said Jerry.
But he said he will never go on a riding lawnmower again. They will figure out some way to get the lawn done.
Ireland's big sister, Italia, is confident everything will work out. She's so grateful for all the support and knows there's more coming.
"I want to say thank you to everyone who has helped her and us," she said.
And little Ireland seems to agree, when we asked if she wanted to say anything she replied with a huge smile and said, "Thank you!"
I am both humbled and honored the Nugent's had faith in ABC ACTION NEWS to invite us to, perhaps, the most special homecoming of their lives. It meant so much for us to be there during this joyous time after this family went through a tragedy most can never imagine. There was so much joy that filled that house and so much caring and Iove. You could see and feel all the support the Nugent's have.
I also had the chance to visit Ireland in the hospital during her recovery. She is a very special little girl whose smile just melts your heart. Seeing her interact like any two year old provides reassurance that she is going to be okay.
We hope to follow her progress.