November 29, 2022
Resilience is one of the many traits that stand out most in Caroline Pattillo. She’s sharing her Riley story of hope and perseverance more than ever since recovering from a life-threatening accident when she was 10 years old.
It was her second day at sailing camp in Bloomington in June of 2016, when a wave tossed her into the water. She was severely injured by the sailboat’s rudder. “I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know if I was going to just need a Band-Aid or surgery,” says Caroline. She was airlifted to Riley Children's Health where the team of trauma surgeons repaired the damage to her midsection. She spent a month at Riley recovering from the physical and emotional wounds.
She continued her recovery at home and is now excelling in school, where she plays volleyball and is a top fundraiser for Riley Dance Marathon. As the COVID shutdown kept most people home, Caroline’s family fostered a five-year-old girl through the state Department of Child Services. Caroline cared for, mentored, and guided her foster sister through the tremendous change of transitioning from a troubled home elsewhere. Caroline read to her foster sister, curled her hair, gave her manicures and coached her lovingly through the life skills she needed to learn.
Since her accident, Caroline and her mother Kerry have found their story resonates with many other families experiencing sudden illness or trauma. “We talk about Caroline’s accident as the million-dollar experience we wouldn’t give a nickel to repeat,” says Kerry. “It has shaped Caroline and offered her a lens to find gifts she didn’t know she had, and she willingly shares them with others.”
Caroline says one day she would like to become a pediatric surgeon like the doctors who treated her. “It’s incredible to see someone who came in literally broken, now flourishing and planning a career in surgery,” says Dr. Matt Landman, the trauma surgeon who put Caroline back together after her accident. “I couldn’t be happier with the progress she’s made.”
Caroline’s mother also shows her fierce sense of pride and looks forward to seeing how Caroline continues to share her gifts. “Whether she chooses to be a surgeon or not, I see that she is fed by caring for other humans,” says Kerry. “Whatever she chooses to do in life, she’ll probably find herself in a place where she can continue to help people.”