With a Mini-Marathon as Motivation, Paul Peaper Walked Towards a Miracle TBI Recovery

By Glenda Shaw


It was the morning of January 27—just 8 months ago—when Paul Peaper climbed a ledge in a building on his family’s produce farm. While his memory ends there, he now knows he fell 12 feet off the ledge to the concrete floor, hitting his head and back. Fortunately, he was quickly transported to the Level 1 Trauma Center at IU Methodist where he would spend almost 3 weeks in a coma with his wife Carleen by his side.


 “We slowly learned about his injuries in the emergency room when different doctors came to the room,” Carleen recalls. “He had a fractured skull and multiple broken bones, including both scapulas, all the ribs on his left side, a couple of vertebrae, and multiple fractures in his face.” 


Paul Peaper finishes the Mini Marathon with his wife Carleen just 5 months after his accident.

“It was the next morning when the neurosurgeon Dr. (Richard) Rodgers came in and sat down with me,” she continues. “He was the first one to say the words ‘severe traumatic brain injury’ and then explained what it meant.”


Carleen remembers being totally overwhelmed by trying to process what a severe TBI meant for Paul’s recovery.


“Dr. Rodgers was wonderful and told me ‘all of the numbers on these monitors are not for you. Your job is to take care of yourself by sleeping and eating. We’re the caregivers right now and at some point, we’ll turn him over to you and you’ll need to be strong to take care of him.’”

Paul was later moved to the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana (RHI), an acute rehab facility specializing in brain and spinal cord injuries, where he spent the next 3 weeks.


“I was unable to walk when I got to RHI but they had me out of my wheelchair and made me stand and take a few steps the very first day holding onto the parallel bars,” Paul recalls.


He continued to rehabilitate and was discharged on March 14 in a shell brace for his broken back and with a walker, still needing assistance to walk. Outpatient therapy was scheduled for next several weeks.


Throughout all of his recovery from the January accident, one date remained on the Peaper’s calendar—the 13.1-mile Indianapolis Mini-Marathon on May 5.


“We did the Mini in 2017 and signed up for the next year right afterwards,” says Paul. “While I was in the coma, my wife joked with the doctors and nurses that as long as I’m ready for the Mini, it’s OK.”


And with the date in mind, Paul worked hard in physical therapy on a treadmill and pushed himself further on the stationary bike at home, pedaling for several hours, sometimes 10 miles at a time. The Mini was his motivation.


“We didn’t tell anyone we were doing it until the race was over,” Carleen laughs. “We sent our son and daughter-in-law a photo of us holding our medals.”


Paul remembers around the 7- or 8-mile mark hearing someone call out to his wife. It was a nurse who cared for Paul at the Trauma Center. She didn’t recognize him until Carleen said, “This is Paul!”


“She looked at Paul in shock and said, ‘This defies medical reason that you’re here!”’


“It encouraged me to go back to the ICU because I had no recollection of the place I spent more than 2 weeks,” Paul says.  “We took cookies to thank the team who cared for me and it was amazing because I couldn’t believe I was in those beds and to know how far I’ve come.”


The Peapers are thrilled to join Brain Bolt 5K in Carmel on September 29 as TBI Survivor Spokespersons. They hope Paul’s miraculous recovery will inspire other Hoosiers who are recovering from these tragic accidents.


“I hope Paul will be an inspiration to other patients, but we also want all of the caregivers to know that everything they do is worthwhile and these outcomes are possible.”


About Peaper Brothers, Inc.


The proud history of Peaper Brothers, Inc., in Indianapolis began more than 130 years ago when William and Henrietta, two German immigrants, married in 1877 and established a garden vegetable business on what is now known as Pleasant Run Boulevard. In 1909, they purchased 26 acres on Bluff Road where the farm stands today. Through five generations the Peaper farm has become synonymous with the purple-top turnip and is one of the most flourishing vegetable produce growers in the state.

About Brain Bolt 5K

Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine (GCBS) will proudly hosts our Fourth Annual Brain Bolt 5K Run/Walk to benefit the treatment and care of traumatic brain and spine injuries on Saturday, September 29 at 10:00 a.m. at the Carmel Gazebo in Carmel. It is a family-friendly 5K featuring music, food trucks, and activities for kids on the gazebo’s grass lawn. Regional trauma specialists will educate attendees on preventing head and spine injuries, and GCBS’ MEGA Brain—an inflatable, interactive, walk-through exhibit—will also be on display. Register and sponsor at: www.brainbolt5k.com