Ireland Nugent brings handicap friend to meet Winter

Clearwater, Florida -- Winter the dolphin got a special visit with two little girls who share a similar handicap on Monday afternoon at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Three-year-old Ireland Nugent met Winter last year after a horrible accident with her family's lawn mower. Her father accidentally backed over and severed the lower part of her legs.

Ireland's family has been advocating for mower safety awareness and they have reached out to other families who have gone through similar experiences. That is how Ireland's mother and father, Nicole and Jerry Nugent, met 6-year-old Elizabeth "Ella" Rose Wananka. Ella Rose's father accidentally backed over her less than two months after Ireland's accident.

Their family lives in Clarksville, Tennessee and has continued to talk with the Nugents through all their ups and downs.

Ella Rose lost her right toe and her right knee cap. She is able to walk but is off balance and must take care of her growth plate. She uses a wheel chair and also wears a brace to help her walk.

"She recently out grew the brace, which is good because she is growing and needs a new one," said Ella Rose's mother, Victoria Wanaka.

The girls sat on a platform in front of Winter and the trainer brought the dolphin over so the girls could pet her.

"She got me all wet when she waved bye to me, and then I pointed my finger and she whistled," said Ella Rose.

"I am really happy for her because there are so many things she can't do, or isn't allowed to do anymore, and to find things she can do that make her feel extra special and a little more normal … it's amazing," said Victoria.

"We have been talking with Ella Rose's family for months and we really were excited they were going to come visit us and have the girls meet," said Nicole Nugent. "We have been reaching out to other moms and dad but they don't want to talk about what happened to their children. Jerry and I know how they feel and we know we felt so alone at first. That is why we are reaching out through Facebook. We found Ella Rose's family and when the girls met last night, (Sunday night) it was an instant connection! We knew right away Ella Rose had to meet Winter."

When Ireland was in the hospital, someone gave her a stuffed Winter dolphin.

"The tail was detachable and that is how we taught Ireland about how to use her prosthetics," said Nicole Nugent. "So when we got to have Ireland meet Winter it was such a healing moment for her and for all of us. We knew Ella Rose had to meet Winter too."

"If Winter could hear me I would tell her she was beautiful," said Ella Rose. "My favorite part was petting her and feeding her. I also touched her scars and her tummy. It was pink."


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