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Zachary Peterson: One “tough little bugger”

Monday, May 15, 2006

He’s a tough little bugger. His heart condition alone presented a mortality rate between 80 to 90 percent, but he’s coming through wonderfully.

On the evening of Dec. 9, 12-year-old Zachary Peterson spent the night at his cousins’ house. Little did he know that, when he crawled into bed, he would wake up with his world changed forever. 

But that’s exactly what happened. At 5:05 the next morning — while Zachary and the rest of the family was fast asleep — the house exploded.

“There’s just nothing left of it,” said Zachary’s Dad, Jeremy, who works as an investigator with the New York State Police. “The explosion was heard from miles away, and there’s just nothing left.” 

Zachary was rushed to local hospital, the Arnot Ogden Medical Center. A team there worked to stabilize his lungs, both of which had collapsed during the explosion. Once steadied, Zachary was air-lifted to Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong, first arriving in the Pediatric Emergency Department around 12:45 p.m., and, within two hours, then being transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit for further care.

At that point, most of Zachary’s injuries remained unknown.  But, once his lungs were stabilized, doctors performed a CT scan of Zachary’s heart, determining that he had suffered a pseudo aneurism of his aorta — something seldom seen at his age – and that surgery was crucial.

“He was sedated for the first seven to eight days,” Peterson said.  “They let him come in and out just long enough to check his responses, so he remembers little of that week.”

Zachary’s winter nap, in that sense, was probably the longest one he’d ever taken.

“He’s a tough little bugger,” Walter Pegoli, M.D., jokingly said of Zachary.  “His heart condition alone presented a mortality rate between 80 to 90 percent, but he’s coming through wonderfully.” 

What followed, then, was more surgery—this time, patching a perforation of his colon, a likely consequence of blood flow being cut-off to that region—along with continued monitoring of his brain, where he suffered bruising and head trauma. In addition to traditional post-surgery recuperation, Zachary would need a longer dosage of rest, as a broken collarbone, pelvis, and rib—as well as a lacerated spleen and liver and extensive burn treatment and skin grafts—slowly began to heal.

But, despite all of the aches and intervention he had been receiving himself, Zachary, truly in the holiday spirit, was only thinking of others.

“When the time came to explain to Zachary where he was and what had happened, he was more upset that the house had been lost than anything else,” Peterson said. “That’s how he is — really sensitive, looking out for others.”

Peterson said the staff at Golisano Children’s Hospital was wonderful. Being an out-of-town family, they were able to use the Ronald McDonald House facilities to find some respite, and the social workers there were advocating their case the whole time. 

They family also had the same daytime nurse during most of their stay, Peterson said, and Zachary still makes a point to visit when he’s in for appointments.

Zachary, not quite out of the woods yet, may require additional heart surgery two to five years down the road. In the meantime, though, he’s busy getting back involved in school, where he’s a high honor role student.

“He loves to read,” Peterson says. “Lemony Snickett, Harry Potter, he’s read them all. He’s loves learning—especially French.”

Miracle Weekend festivities

Cheering on kids like Zachary is just part of the celebration planned year’s Miracle Weekend, to be held Friday and Saturday, June 2 and 3.  The weekend includes two time-honored fund-raising events to support the hospital — the 23rd Annual CMN telethon and 10th Annual Stroll for Strong Kids — plus a few mix-ins that will make this year’s festivities better than ever.

Children’s Miracle Network Telethon

This year’s telethon, produced by 10NBC and broadcast from the Strong Memorial Hospital Lobby from 8 to 11 p.m. on Friday, June 2, and 3 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, June 3, will bring inspirational stories from Golisano Children’s Hospital’s five Miracle Kids. Among them you’ll hear one newborn’s fight to survive 13 shunt surgeries, a teenager whose arm was successfully reattached, and a young boy’s battle to survive a house explosion.

During the event, you can help the hospital by phoning in gifts at (585) 241-KIDS.

Stroll for Strong Kids

This year’s 10th Annual Stroll for Strong Kids offers plenty of family fun, including clowns, inflatable toys, raffles, door prizes, free lunch courtesy of Subway and a concert by Gary the Happy Pirate. 

What’s more — if you can keep a secret – the hospital is throwing a surprise party for loveable mascot, Sandy Strong, during the scenic 2-mile walk through GeneseeValley Park in Rochester. Expect more than 26 sheet cakes and one super-chorus of “Happy Birthday” at the starting line.

Festivities start with registration at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 3. For more information on how you or a team of friends can be involved, please call (585) 273-5948 or visit

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