NEW PORT RICHEY — Seeing the face of a child light up may be one of the holiday season’s greatest gifts.
Ireland Nugent, bright-eyed and smiling while sitting atop a new handmade rocking horse, exemplified that sentiment with a gathering of well-wishers Monday afternoon in New Port Richey.
Ireland, the now 3-year-old Palm Harbor child seriously injured in an April lawn-mower accident, arrived as the guest of honor at the Pasco County law offices of Lucas, Green and Magazine.
The gathering was organized by the firm to present Ireland and her father, Jerry Nugent, with an intricately hand-carved and painted rocking horse as an early Christmas present.
In front of television news crews, reporters, supporters from the law firm and a Palm Harbor Fire Rescue first responder and his family, Ireland peeled back wrapping paper from the toy horse and happily mounted up for a quick demo of her new toy.
While Ireland may be missing both feet now because of the severity of the accident, her spirit is fully intact and it showed once again Monday afternoon, even amid all the pesky media attention.
“She’s doing great,” Jerry Nugent said of his daughter’s progress eight months removed from the accident, adding that Ireland’s begun ballet classes once a week and went roller skating last week. “Without the support of our firefighters, our community and you guys, this just wouldn’t be possible for us. The support we’ve gotten has just helped us heal so much.”
One of those in attendance Monday was Lt. Steve Gorby from Palm Harbor Fire Rescue. Gorby and the driver of his vehicle were the first responders to the Nugent household on April 11.
“The outcome has been phenomenal given the amount of trauma she experienced,” said Gorby, who attended with his wife and two daughters. Monday is the latest of many events Gorby has taken part in since Ireland’s accident. “The family’s such good people and they’ve received so much support.”
Monday’s gathering initially came about months ago during the “Firefighters for Ireland” fundraiser held at O’Keefe’s Family Tavern and Grill and organized by North Pinellas Firefighters Charities.
Lucas, Green and Magazine helped sponsor that event, which featured an auction. Litigation partner Jim Magazine said he and another partner were in Nevada on a case during that event, but was texted a photo of the rocking horse.
“We got a phone call from the event that this (rocking horse) was being auctioned off and so we decided to get on the phone and buy it for her,” he said. “What a tragedy for this little girl and she’s done such a remarkable job in healing. And she’s healing the community at the same time.”
Pat Scanlon, a retired Clearwater firefighter that put together the aforementioned fundraiser in August, was also in attendance Monday to offer his continued support.
The outpouring of compassion toward Ireland and the Nugent family during the past year’s tribulations continues to amaze and inspire, Jerry Nugent said.
“It really does restore faith back in humanity in the way that people help out of the kindness of their hearts and just pour it out to us. We feel really blessed.”