“I am strong. I am brave. My whole life has prepared me to do this.”
These are the reassuring words that 10-year-old Caroline Pattillo repeated to herself as she was wheeled back for emergency surgery at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, and they’ve become a mantra that’s helped her stay positive through a painful recovery and beyond.
Caroline was injured last summer while learning to sail at a day camp on Lake Monroe—just outside her native Bloomington—when she was thrown from the boat and impaled by the rudder. She was airlifted to Riley, home to Indiana’s only Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, where she underwent five hours of emergency surgery with Riley Pediatric Surgeon Matthew Landman, M.D.
“At first, I didn’t really know what I was going on. I was in shock. And then my mom told me I had to have surgery, and I got really scared,” Caroline remembers.
“Right before she was wheeled back, Caroline looked at me and said, ‘You’re coming, right, Mom?’ And she really broke down and said, ‘I can’t do this,’” mom Kerry Thomson recalls. “That’s when I told her she was strong and brave and that her whole life had prepared her to do this. It was hard.”
Caroline underwent numerous procedures during her four-week stay at Riley. Her courage and upbeat attitude earned her the nickname “Super C.”
“It’s been a real joy to see her blossom into a strong-willed and confident young woman as a result of this accident,” Dr. Landman says. “Caroline is an example of what we all hope we’d become if we went through a horrible experience like this.”
Caroline, who is now 11 and will start sixth grade in the fall, has become an advocate for Riley raising $500 by herself and inspiring friends and family to give back, including her stepdad, Babak Seradjeh, who ran the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon through the Team Riley fundraising program. One of Riley’s trademark red wagons bears the name Super C in honor of her family’s fundraising efforts.
“Riley has become such a special place for me. Whenever I see a sign or a license plate, I yell, ‘It’s a Riley sign!’” Caroline laughs. “When I was there, I didn’t think it was so serious, but I’ve heard my story now, and I know I could have died if I wasn’t at Riley. It’s a life-changing place for so many kids, including me.”