Todd Peters and family

When the go-kart he was driving tipped over, middle schooler Todd Peters, of State Center, Iowa, had his left arm trapped under the roll bar. EMTs called to the home warned Todd’s parents that their son could lose his arm.

Doctors at a Des Moines hospital determined that Todd’s compound fracture required a higher level of coordinated specialty care. A surgeon there referred the family to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where orthopedic surgeons Michael Willey, MD, and Joseph Buckwalter V, MD, worked together for 18 months to save Todd’s arm and keep it functioning.

After eight surgeries, Todd hit the court with his seventh-grade basketball team. His parents, Rich and Shannon, call it a miracle, the result of remarkable patient care that they noticed from the day they arrived.

“Once we got to Iowa City, it felt like a weight was lifted off my chest,” Rich says. “I felt more at ease because I knew Todd was going to get the best care possible with the greatest surgeons.”

Injury required specialty care only UI orthopedic surgeons could offer

Todd wore a helmet and a safety harness in the go-kart that day in June 2019, but loose gravel caused the vehicle to flip.

“We ran over and he was walking toward us holding his arm and saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’” Shannon says. “He was in shock.”

At the local hospital, Todd was taken to surgery, where the wound was cleaned and the injury was evaluated.

“The surgeon there said it was over their heads as far as being able to put his arm back together,” Rich says. “But he knew Dr. Willey in Iowa City and texted him to say he was sending a kid his way.”

‘They made us feel really comfortable’

At UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, the family met with Willey and Buckwalter, who took the time to fully explain the situation and the challenges ahead, including the possibility of Todd losing some arm function.

They told us exactly what was happening and what they were going to do next. And that includes Todd. He always knew what was going on and was never left in the dark. They made us feel really comfortable.

Shannon Peters

Their open and honest style impressed the family throughout the whole process.

“They told us exactly what was happening and what they were going to do next,” Shannon says. “And that includes Todd. He always knew what was going on and was never left in the dark. They made us feel really comfortable.”

Rich says the doctors answered every question with patience and compassion.

“They explained things in a way we could understand,” he says. “We weren’t left guessing. They didn’t sugarcoat things. They told us how it was and that they would be there for us.”

‘An amazingly resilient kid’

Willey says Todd’s first surgery focused on further cleaning the wound to prevent infection and on stabilizing the arm.

“Then comes the more challenging part, which is rehabilitation and assessing how things are recovering and seeing what else we can do to make things better and improve long-term function,” Willey says.

Todd’s case required multiple areas of orthopedic specialty care that aren’t all available at most hospitals.

“We’re always trying to maximize long-term function, especially in kids,” Willey says. “These types of unique cases that require multiple specialties can only be managed at a center like Iowa.”

Todd stayed in the hospital for two weeks, and Shannon and Rich stayed with him.

“Todd is an amazingly resilient kid,” Buckwalter says. “He just really rolled with everything the whole time. And his family was incredibly supportive and positive at every turn. And that helps us, too, when we’re dealing with difficult cases.”

Buckwalter says seeing patients return to the activities they love is gratifying.

“The goal, especially in pediatric care, is to make it so these kids can grow up, get married, have children, live their lives, and do all the things that they want to do,” he says. “And Todd will be able to do all that without any difficulty.”

Rich and Todd Peters
Rich had scars tattooed on his arm to match Todd’s scars and to commemorate his journey back from tragedy. (Credit: Justin Torner, UI Office of Strategic Communications)

Full arm function restored

Nearly two years after the accident, Todd has full function of his elbow, wrist, and hand. He does physical therapy once a week, but visits to Iowa City are nearly over. He’s running track this spring and will resume baseball in the summer.

“It feels good to be back,” Todd says.

Todd’s scars wrap up and down and around his arm. Those will fade some, so his father had matching scars tattooed on his own arm as a reminder of the family’s journey.

“They made us feel like a part of the family there,” Rich says. “Now, when we go there for an appointment, it might only be with Dr. Willey or Dr. Buckwalter, but almost always the other one pops in to say hi and check on Todd. They are amazing and have gone above and beyond for our family.”

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