Car accident leaves marathon runner with severe spinal fracture

With a little under two hours left of a 13-hour drive from Minnesota to St. Louis to watch the Packers play the Rams, Peter Baum hit a patch of ice and lost control of his car. He was taken to Pike County Hospital and then transferred to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Even though the accident was 12 years ago, he still recalls the hospital staff contacting his dad back home in Wisconsin and asking about a hospital preference. “My dad was adamant about Barnes-Jewish Hospital because he knew they had a great reputation,’ says Baum.

Photo: Peter at the Vermont City Marathon in 2017.

Due to the severities of Baum’s injuries, he should have been airlifted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. But since an ice storm had hit the area, it was unsafe to travel by air, so he made the two-hour trip by ambulance. “When I was being transferred to Barnes, it made me realize the severity of my spinal injury,” say Baum.

Washington University orthopedic spine specialist, Jacob Buchowski, MD, MS, assessed Baum’s injuries immediately. He diagnosed Baum with an unstable fracture of the twelfth thoracic vertebrae (T12) and injuries to the ligaments around it. In addition, Baum sustained severe damage to his chest and lungs. “It was clear that Peter would need surgery to stabilize his spine. Without surgery, he would be at risk of becoming paralyzed. The only question was when to do the surgery given his severe chest and lung injuries,” says Dr. Buchowski.

Baum recalls waiting a couple of days before having surgery to allow his breathing to improve. He says, “The waiting was hard because with each day I had to worry about the possibility of paralysis.” He goes on to say, “Dr. Buchowski was great. He was very pragmatic, calming but was not going to sugar coat it. He walked me through the procedure and then why he had to do it that way. It was very reassuring.” Baum also recalls his dad researching Dr. Buchowski’s qualifications and says, “It was further reassurance that we were in the best place we could be for the circumstances.”

On December 17th, 2007, Dr. Buchowski performed a complex surgery to stabilize the spine by placing two rods and eight screws. “Surgery went perfectly, but I was worried about Peter’s lung function especially over the first few days after surgery,” says Dr. Buchowski.

Baum says, “I woke up from surgery and remember being very groggy from the anesthetic but also very happy because I could move my legs and feet.” Baum says he stayed at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for 7 days to recover from the spine operation and injuries to his chest and lungs. His care was then transferred over to Roby Thompson, MD, at the University of Minnesota.

Besides being a huge Packers fan, Baum is also an avid runner and had just started running marathons before the accident. He had 3 under his belt and had a goal of running a marathon in every state. Ten months after surgery, he was back to chasing his goal and completed the Kansas City marathon.

Photo: Peter at the Phoenix-Mesa Marathon in 2017

 Since the accident he has completed 14 marathons across the United States. Baum says, “I try to pick the most exciting marathon in the state.” His goal is to run three marathons a year, but most of the time he only completes two due to time and training. His next marathon is November 4th in West Virginia. Baum recently qualified and is in the registration pool for the Boston Marathon and he will find out at the end of September if he was accepted.

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