The ailments started back when Mikey Peterson was a boy, severe ailments. They plagued him, ravaged his body, taking alternating turns, one by one, day by day, month by month, year by year, punch by punch, surgery by surgery, straight into adulthood, into a marriage, into parenthood, into life.
Pain became Peterson’s companion, not his friend, such as it does when, for example, one’s brain outgrows the space meant for it inside the human skull, interrupting all kinds of functions. But all of that and more washed out of his mind on an early morning in December when a whooshing sound first filled his ears — it was the noise made by sprinklers pouring water into his house — and then the shriek of alarms blaring away.
Ailments are one thing, a house fire is another.
Smoke and flames and water — hell — filled Peterson’s home in Pleasant Grove as he and his wife, Karie, grabbed their two young children and escaped out the door, standing in their underwear in frigid temperatures, watching the devastation unfold from the front yard.
The flooding was as damaging as the fire.
“It was devastating,” Peterson says. “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In that moment, I felt low, so low, I didn’t know if I could ever bounce back.”
But bouncing back, Peterson is.
“After seeing all the support we’ve gotten from strangers, from Jazz fans who reached out and showed that they cared,” he says, “that changed everything, my whole perspective. That was a tender mercy for me and my family, seeing that kindness was … amazing.”
Let’s slam this story in reverse, back to the beginning.
A life full of challenges
Mikey and Karie grew up in Utah. They’ve been married for 16 years, and the challenges they’ve faced started long before that. Mikey commenced in on having pains when he was in the fifth grade, suffering from chronic kidney stones, a condition that led to scarring, and weekly trips to the hospital, and eventually required surgery — an auto transplant — in which his kidney was moved from one location to another.
Attendant with that but not necessarily related to it were migraines, ulcerated colitis, and a removed gall bladder. Pain management became a daily routine for Peterson. And for Karie, too, once she married the man, considering she was picking up so many pieces that Mikey, through no fault of his own, let fall to the ground.
The couple also suffered from an infertility issue, so badly wanting children, but failing in their attempts to conceive. Karie finally got pregnant in 2008, but ultimately miscarried. Four years later, they had a son they named Stockton, in part on account of their love for the Utah Jazz. That was a happy day. So was the day five years later, when little Meg was born.
But mixed into those periods of joy, in 2016, Mikey suffered through another series of setbacks.
He experienced more headaches, dizziness, numbness in his legs, nausea.
“I couldn’t get out of bed,” he says.
All of which caused him to lose his job as a corporate trainer with a software company. But he was just trying to hang on, to survive.
“I kept losing bits of myself,” he says. “I couldn’t be relied upon because my body was malfunctioning. It was betraying me. I was in pain and every morning, I vomited.”
More and more responsibility fell on Karie, who is a third-grade teacher at an elementary school in Vineyard. She tried to pay the bills and attend to the kids, gaining help from extended family members. And her greatest ache came from watching her talented, conscientious husband partially succumb to his illnesses.
It’s an ache that continues straight to present.
“I know what he wants to be doing,” she says. “Working, playing with the kids, being social. It takes him a lot of the day to rally to be with the kids. When he’s in a room with a pillow over his head, it’s heartbreaking.”
Three years ago, Mikey underwent what’s called decompression surgery, an operation that included removing part of his brain, coming after the diagnosis that his brain was growing too large for its cavity, causing pain, body misfires, nausea, fluid blockage to his spine and myriad other symptoms.
After a fistful of hours on the operating table, Peterson says he nearly died in recovery when he was given the wrong medication. He subsequently caught the flu, and the incision in his brain burst.
But he pulled through, is still pulling through.
“I get frustrated,” he says. “You keep hoping for a magic fix, but I had to come to an acceptance of my limitations.”
Both Mikey and Karie express gratitude toward their parents and family members who help with responsibilities the couple, under normal circumstances, would handle themselves.
“Our parents have been so supportive,” Karie says.
Says Mikey: “Karie is a warrior, the most supportive wife there is.”
A terrifying night
It was in the midst of these challenges when catastrophe struck again a few months ago, on the night of Dec. 1, when Karie, attempting to handle getting food on the table — fried tacos — and her children properly attended to, was distracted enough to leave hot oil in a pan on the stove at around 6 p.m.
“I don’t have a clear memory of turning off the stove,” she says. ���I went to bed at midnight. … [The fire] might have been caused by a faulty stove.”
She’s not certain.
Karie and Mikey were awakened in a panic at 2:30 when the whooshing and the alarm sounded, when the flames flared, the smoke wafted.
Karie grabbed the kids, Mikey tried to put out the fire. With water sprinkling all around, he slipped on the floor, hit his head, suffering a concussion before exiting out the door.
“I was freaking out,��� Mikey says.
Seconds later, the family, soaking wet, huddled half-clothed in the dark cold, shivering.
“I broke down,” Mikey says. “This was like the thing that finally was going to break me. I didn’t know if I could get past this.”
But then, a string of unexpected benevolence swelled up over and cascaded upon the Petersons.
A neighbor brought the shaken clan clothes. Other family members temporarily took the kids in while accommodations were made for a nine-day stay at a hotel, and after that a rental townhome in Orem.
Peterson sent out a tweet on Twitter that read: “We just had a massive house fire. Sprinklers came on. A few injuries sustained. Please pray for my family.”
Jazz Nation to the rescue
Over the years, Peterson had helped start up and participate in a podcast that ruminated about all things Utah Jazz. He was a huge sports fan. The podcast had a modest following, as did his Twitter account.
But the faceless individuals who had listened to and engaged with him on those platforms saw his tweet and rushed to help Mikey, Karie, Stockton and Meg Peterson in any which way they could.
“One person private messaged me and asked what he could do,” Mikey says. “Another person started a raffle for a Donovan Mitchell jersey. Another follower asked for my Venmo account. People we didn’t know donated different amounts of money, from $5 to $150, people we’d never met. We had people offering us meals and their basements for us to stay in. They came to our rescue.”
That rescue blew past material goods.
It helped lift Mikey and Karie out of a smoldering nadir into a lofty rejuvenation of belief in their fellow passengers on their life’s journey.
“It helped me, it helped us,” Mikey says. “It was a life-changing event.”
A changed life Peterson now eagerly looks forward to pursuing, despite his ongoing ailments, come what may.
So it is that the outward good graces of others and the inward gratitude it spawned among the afflicted are the magic fix Peterson had always hoped for. He accepts his own limitations, yes, but places no such boundaries, not anymore, on the kindnesses of family and friends, and many Jazz fans, people he doesn’t even know.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.