Patient Stories

Petersen_Reid Photo
Age Diagnosed
Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

"We have a 24 hour window to prevent paralysis."

Eighteen-year-old Reid Petersen was on a family vacation in Mexico when it happened. While he was surface diving in waist-deep water, the waves pounded his head into the ocean floor. “I heard a crunch. I immediately knew something was wrong,” he recalls.

That’s about all he remembers of the accident, other than significant pain and numbness on the right side of his body. After a CT scan at a local clinic, his family decided to medevac him back to the U.S. for treatment. They consulted with a family friend who’s an orthopedic surgeon, and he recommended they take Reid to see surgeon and spine specialist Jeffrey Roh at the EvergreenHealth Spine Institute.


“Reid’s injury was extensive,” Dr. Roh explains. “His C5 and C6 vertebrae had fractured and split. Essentially, the fifth bone had moved forward to the sixth bone’s position. He was lucky to be alive – he should have been paralyzed.”

With the level of nerve compression and such an unstable fracture, Reid needed immediate surgical intervention.

“With this kind of injury, we have a 24-hour window to prevent paralysis and improve the chances of a full neurological recovery,” Dr. Roh stresses. “No question about it – time is a huge factor.”

Dr. Roh adds that this type of whiplash-style injury – called a flexion-distraction injury – is often seen after a car crash. “The seat belt stops the body, but the head and neck keep moving forward,” he adds. “So there is much force passing through the head to the neck. It’s a very significant injury.”

Using a gold-standard surgical procedure called a Smith-Robinson, which he learned from a leader in the field of orthopedic surgery, Dr. Roh cleaned out the dislocation and moved Reid’s C5 vertebrae back to where it should be with a spacer, plate and screws.

Reid’s memories are fuzzy until after the surgery, when he woke up in his hospital room with his whole family around him. “Everybody was telling me that I looked great,” he smiles, “but I don’t know about that.” Incredibly, he was able to go home the next day.

“This injury could have resulted in paralysis,” Dr. Roh states. “But I have high hopes that Reid will be back to near full strength following physical therapy.”


Years later, Reid Petersen suffers few lasting effects of his accident. For Reid, an avid athlete – interested in everything from racquetball to hiking – the hardest part of recovery was having to sit on the sidelines. Once he completed his physical therapy, he started back with low-impact activities like swimming.

“Everyone says it’s a miracle, and I guess that’s true,” Reid says simply. “I feel really lucky.”

And the community is lucky to have the expertise of the EvergreenHealth Spine Institute close to home, where its surgeons are leaders in the development and refinement of minimally invasive techniques and procedures for spine surgery.