A go-kart accident left Todd Peters’ family fearing that the middle-schooler might lose his arm. His family says Todd’s team at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital performed a “miracle.”
Emily Nelson
Justin Torner

When EMTs arrived at the Peters home in State Center, Iowa, in June 2019, they warned Shannon and Rich Peters that their son, Todd, could lose his arm.

Eighteen months and eight surgeries later, Todd Peters hit the court with his seventh-grade basketball team with a fully functioning arm. His parents say it was a miracle made possible by the team at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

“Living in Iowa our whole lives and being huge Hawkeye fans, we’ve had friends with loved ones at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and heard all the great stories about how it’s a world-class hospital,” Rich Peters says. “Once we got to Iowa City, it felt like a weight was lifted off my chest and I felt more at ease because I knew Todd was going to get the best care possible with the greatest surgeons.”

Todd’s left arm was injured when the go-kart that he was driving hit loose gravel and tipped over. He was wearing a helmet and safety harness, but his arm became trapped under the roll bar.

Iowa’s expertise in pediatric orthopedics

University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital’s board-certified pediatric orthopedists are trained to treat a range of congenital, developmental, and traumatic conditions affecting children’s bones, joints, and muscles. Our physicians are world-renowned experts in surgical and non-surgical treatments for conditions such as scoliosis, limb length discrepancies, clubfoot, hip dysplasia, and fractures.

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

EMTs brought Todd to a Des Moines hospital, where he was taken to surgery to clean the wound caused by a compound fracture.

“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. (Michael) Willey in Iowa City and texted him to say he was sending a kid his way.”

Todd was taken by ambulance to Iowa City where the family met with orthopedic surgeons Willey and Dr. Joseph Buckwalter V, who explained the situation and challenges that Todd’s injury presented.

The most pressing initial concern was infection due to the amount of gravel and debris, so the first surgery primarily focused on further cleaning the wound and stabilizing the arm. The next goal was to restore function to the arm. The break was on the elbow near the growth plate and there was a significant tear on the radial nerve.

“With a very high-energy accident like this where there is an open wound, broken bones, tendons, muscles, and nerves cut and lacerated, our primary concern is whether this kid is going to lose his arm,” Buckwalter says. “Limb preservation, or saving the limb, is a stepwise process in which the initial treatment is cleaning everything, getting the lay of the land, and understanding the nature of the injury. Subsequent procedures try to fix the bones and fix the nerves. 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.”

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

Rich Peters
Todd’s father
Pediatric surgery

Surgery at any age can be scary. When it’s your child, you want to know they are being cared for by a team that specializes in pediatric surgery.

University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital is home to the only team of pediatric surgeons in Iowa and western Illinois specifically trained to care for children, from premature infants to young adults. Our surgeons are specialists in the care of a broad range of pediatric surgical conditions and traumatic injuries.

Shannon and Rich say they appreciated the open, honest communication.

“They prepared us for the worst and were up front with us that they weren’t sure if he would ever have elbow, wrist, or hand function again, or he might only be able to move the elbow 20 or 30 degrees,” Shannon says. “But throughout the whole process, 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.”

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

Willey says Todd’s case required expertise from multiple areas of orthopedic care, including his in trauma and fracture reconstruction and Buckwalter’s in microsurgery for nerve and vessel reconstruction.

“This was an interesting case because it really combined the different specialties that we have in fracture fixation and management of soft tissue injuries, or the nerve, muscle, and skin injuries that went along with the accident,” Willey says. “We’re always trying to maximize long-term function, especially in kids, and these types of unique cases that require multiple specialties can only be managed at a center like Iowa.”

Father and son Rich and Todd Peters showing their matching scars. Rich's are tattoos that mirror his son's actual scars.

Rich Peters had scars tattooed on his arm to match his son Todd’s scars—a reminder of the family’s journey.

Todd was at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital for two weeks immediately after the accident, and Shannon and Rich stayed with him.

“From the nurses, PT, OT, doctors, receptionist, kitchen staff, everyone was there to help Todd and us get through one of the toughest times of our lives,” Shannon says.

Buckwalter says he gives a lot of credit to the Peters family themselves.

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

The Peters family also got a boost from a few Hawkeyes, including Hawkeye football player Michael Lois. In high school, Lois broke three vertebrae in a pool accident and didn’t know if he would ever walk again.

“It was special because he was able to share his road to recovery with Todd,” Rich says. “We still keep in touch with Michael and his parents. They are amazing people.”

Nearly two years after the accident, Todd has full function of his elbow, wrist, and hand. He still does physical therapy once a week but visits to Iowa City are nearly over. He ran track in spring 2021 and will resume baseball in the summer.

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

Buckwalter and Willey say seeing patients return to the activities they love is gratifying.

“All those things that really make people who they are, he’s doing, and that’s fantastic,” Buckwalter says. “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. And Todd will be able to do all that without any difficulty.”

Todd’s scars wrap up and down and around his arm, and while they will fade some, his father had them tattooed on his own arm, 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.”