INDIANAPOLIS, IN – A Bloomington teenager is using her experience with a traumatic injury to help others dealing with similar situations and give back to the medical team that saved her life.

16-year-old Caroline Pattillo had the opportunity Wednesday morning to reunite with the surgeon who saved Caroline’s life six years ago.

“I just hold it close to my heart that he did that for me,” Caroline said.

Caroline was 10 years old when a boating accident on Lake Monroe left her impaled by a Sunfish sailboat rudder. Caroline says she remembers falling off the back of the boat, then realizing there was “stuff” in the water around her.

“I told them to blow their emergency whistles because I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t in pain yet,” she said. “I didn’t really know how badly I was injured, I knew something was wrong.”

Initially, Caroline was rushed to a Bloomington hospital, where she was told she would need stitches. Before long however, it became clear that she had suffered massive internal injuries. At that point, she was flown by lifeline helicopter to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis and into the care of Dr. Matt Landman.  

“I got the page that there was a boating accident, patient coming from Bloomington and that they had been impaled,” Dr. Landman said.  “Obviously, the major thing we want to worry about up front is any sort of massive bleeding that could accompany an injury like this.”

Landman is a trauma surgeon and now serves as Riley’s Trauma Medical Director.  After examining Caroline, he told Caroline and her mother Kerry Thomson that emergency surgery was needed.

“He put his arm around me and said ‘I’m Matt,’” Thomson said. “Not ‘Doctor Landman’ or something I wouldn’t remember. He said ‘I’m Matt and I’m going to be taking care of Caroline.’”

“I asked my mom if I was going to die,” Caroline said. “She said I’m strong and I’m brave and I can make it through.”

Part of surgery was reconstructing everything,” Landman said. “Part of it was protecting it from breaking down.”

The surgery and follow-up procedures were successful. And through pain and discomfort, Caroline healed quickly.

“I couldn’t be happier with the progress she’s made,” Landman said.

Now 16, Caroline is fully recovered from her traumatic injury. And she’s using her experience as a way to inspire others by sharing the same message she got from her mom and other family and friends.

“If you chose to tap your strength and your bravery you can really pivot it into something that can shape your life in a positive way instead of a negative one,” Thomson said.

Caroline is now actively involved in fundraising for Riley Children’s Hospital. She also does public speaking at events like the I.U. Dance Marathon as a way to share her story and motivate others recovering from traumatic injuries.

“I think it would mean a difference to me if I was in the same place I was and some kid that had survived came and told me that they did survive,” Caroline said.

As another result of her experience, Caroline says she hopes to attend medical school and become a surgeon one day.

“I want to be a surgeon so I can help other people like he did to me,” she said. “I just hold it close to my heart that he did that for me.”

“It’s a million dollar experience that you wouldn’t give a nickel to repeat,” Thomson said.

“Incredible amount of happiness to see someone who came in quite literally broken into the emergency department who is flourishing,” Landman said.

Today’s reunion comes as the nation recognizes May as National Trauma Awareness Day. May 18 is also National Trauma Survivors Day, which is mean to draw inspiration from and provide support to survivors of traumatic injuries and their caregivers, opening the road to their recovery.

You can read more about those efforts at the Riley Children’s Hospital and American Trauma Society websites.