Ireland Nugent meets Winter the Dolphin

8:35 PM, May 18, 2013   |    comments
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CLEARWATER, Florida -- Ever since Winter the Dolphin was rescued from a crab trap several years ago and rehabilitated at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, her story of survival has become a hit movie and inspired people around the world.

On Saturday, her "Dolphin Tale" helped Ireland Nugent, the toddler who lost her feet in a Palm Harbor lawnmower accident last month.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium even donated part of its Saturday ticket proceeds to her family and held auctions in her honor.

The stories of Winter the Dolphin and Ireland Nugent both involve tragedy and strength, each the victim of a frightening accident with loved ones initially unsure if they would survive. That's why so much excitement surrounded the "Day of Support" for Ireland's family at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

"I felt happy for her because she got to know someone who is like her," says Ireland's 11-year-old sister, Italia Nesbitt.

When Ireland was in the hospital, someone sent her a Winter the Dolphin toy. Winter's prosthetic tail helped Ireland learn more about what she would go through. But before Saturday, she had never seen Winter face-to-face.

"To see Winter without her tail and still see that Winter has such a vibrant life, can play and whistle and play games really lets [Ireland] know that she can still do the same things," says her mom, Nicole.

The company that makes Winter's prosthetic tails also brings kids to Clearwater Marine Aquarium who have lost limbs or are about to.

"It makes me happy to see a child's face light up," says Cammie Zodrow, senior marine mammal trainer at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. "It makes me feel even better as a mom to see a mother's and father's reaction to their child responding to Winter that way."

And although Ireland was scared at first to touch Winter, she smiled and pet her near the end of her visit. Her family is thankful for the opportunity, and for the support the aquarium provided.

"It makes me realize that with all the bad things going on in the world, there's so much good left in the world," Nicole says.

On Tuesday, Ireland will have her skin grafts checked and get a better idea of when she can receive her prosthetics.

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