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Boy who recovered from illness celebrates 10th birthday by helping animals

By jim Published: March 23, 2009

By Jewell Cardwell

Beacon Journal columnist

''To whom much is given much is expected.''

That's the strong message Teri and Bob Peters — formerly of Akron, now of Wadsworth — have been quietly feeding their two sons over the last few years.

You're never too young to learn it and adopt that as your mantra for living, the couple says.

Saturday the Peters saw it take root.

What more appropriate time than at their younger son Matthew's 10th birthday party (his birthday is today)?

Matthew invited a dozen friends and his 12-year-old brother, Ben, to his Give Back/Pay It Forward birthday party.

Instead of gifts for Matthew, guests were asked to bring a gift for a dog (toys, food, bones, leashes and collars). Matthew said he devised that plan ''because I already have all the toys I need.''

''Matthew chose the . . . rescue service Save Ohio Strays, where he had adopted a dog, Silo, a black Lab mix, last year on his birthday,'' his mother said.

The Wadsworth-based agency is a not-for-profit organization that rescues, cares for and places animals.

His pals complied big time.

After the ice cream and cake and a battery of games, including one that had them all barking, the partygoers received a surprise visit from a posse of puppies (boxer mixes and miniature schnauzer mixes) from Save Ohio Strays.

More about that in a moment.

Medical miracle

I met Matthew, this amazing little dark-eyed boy, through photos and his mother's letters a short time after he was born.

Many of you may recall meeting him in this space and connecting with his family through prayer.

For it was a truly frightening and challenging time for his mom and dad.

Matthew was diagnosed at birth with the rare severe combined immunodeficiency disorder (SCID), which meant his body lacked the life-saving T-cell and B-cell functions in the immune system.

It was the exact same medical anomaly that claimed the lives of his brother, Andrew, at 7 months of age in 1998, and a Texas boy, David Vetter, who was known as the ''boy in the bubble'' because he lived inside a plastic enclosure until his death in 1984.

So, Matthew and his parents were flown to the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., where baby Matthew underwent intensive treatment, including a lifesaving bone-marrow transplant, compliments of his mother.

A few months later, with his life still hanging in the balance, Matthew underwent a liver transplant, also courtesy of his mother, at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Of course, it was touch-and-go for a long time, as Matthew was in critical condition more times than his parents care to remember. And the list of medicines, including steroids, was enough to boggle the mind.

The Peters family credits both the amazing medical care and the collective prayers their son received for his miracle.

In one of the many letters Teri Peters wrote during that scary time, she had this to share: ''We have been repeatedly touched by the kindness of your readers.''

She cited the fundraiser that Kim and Jayne, co-owners of KJ's Hair Classics in Cuyahoga Falls, organized. It resulted in 180 cards filled with love, prayers and gifts of money to help with Matthew's expenses.

''We are overwhelmed by the generosity people continue to show us,'' she wrote, noting she is keeping every card. ''One of these days, when Matthew reaches an age of true understanding, I will present them to him.''

It was nearly two years before Matthew would get the green light to go home.

So, understandably, every birthday is a real celebration of life.

''With the love and support of family and community and the excellent medical care he received both out of state and here at the hematology/oncology department at Akron Children's Hospital, Matthew is a healthy and typical soon-to-be-10-year-old boy,'' his mother noted.

''I have often thought about writing a book — what a story to tell. . . . We have developed dear friendships with a few of the people who wrote to us while we were in Durham, including one very, special lady — Ruth Jones — who ended up stopping by our house one day after we had come home.

''She came by for regular visits. Bob and I had been praying about finding someone to sit with the boys a few hours a week so I could have a little time out of the house; this was when Matthew was still in isolation. Ruth was God's answer to prayer; she came faithfully every Tuesday for almost four years and sat with the boys all day while I grocery shopped, ran errands. . . . Ruth never accepted a dime. We still keep in touch with her. She is the boys' adopted grandmother!''

Celebration of life

Back to the party.

Ron Kilchenman, public relations coordinator for Save Ohio Strays, came bearing a raft of gifts for Matthew and Ben and their guests: T-shirts and calendars.

But nothing more pleasurable than cuddly puppies who are in foster care and ready for adoption.

The gifts turned over to Kilchenman's group will be used to help defray the expense of keeping the puppies in foster care.

The irony here is that Matthew, who himself escaped death several times, is now in the position of helping some defenseless animals do the same.

Brother Ben, who turns 13 on May 10, is busy deciding how he, too, will use his big day to pay it forward. Should be very interesting.

Ironically, Matthew is free of all medications. He doesn't even have to take anti-rejection medicines that most organ-transplant patients must have for the rest of their lives.

His life is a miracle any way you look at it.

And for that, his family gives total praise to God and to the many angels here on Earth.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

For information about Save Ohio Strays, please visit http://www.saveohiostrays.org. Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or jcardwell@thebeaconjournal.com

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