By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
It was the kind of reunion that brings tears to your eyes. The little girl grabbing hold of the leg of one of her rescuers, the paramedics and emergency medical technicians crowding around to hear her whispers of thanks.
Bri’Alle McNeil was critically injured in early November when an errant bullet came crashing through her bedroom wall while she was sleeping. The gun violence that her mother had feared outside her home had found its way inside, nearly killing 6-year-old Bri.
But this beautiful day in May, six months later, was a celebration. Bri had survived, due in no small part to the heroic efforts of the first responders who rushed into the night to save her, transporting her to Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, where a trauma team was ready to jump into action.
Members of the Pike Township Fire Department, Station 61, presented Bri – who was wearing red Converse sneakers and a jean jacket emblazoned with her name and pink feather trim – with a pink fire helmet and other goodies when she and her mom, Angel McNeil, visited the Indianapolis station last week to say thank you.
Reunions like this mean the world to first responders like Capt. Aaron Bell, who was one of the transporting medics that night in November.
“We’re well-trained for those runs, but they’re the runs you never want to go on,” he said, those involving children.
But this run was a win.
“We had really good transition, from the IMPD officer who initially carried her out to us to the transition at Riley. Everything went really smoothly,” Capt. Bell said.
Joining him in the back of the ambulance that night were Chris Berger, Allen Hall and A.C. Niyikiza, all firefighters and first responders trained to save lives and transport their precious cargo to Riley, the only Level 1 pediatric trauma center in the state.
Mike Goodrich, division chief of EMS, said seeing Bri and her mom last week was gratifying for his team.
“We don’t always even find out how some people do, let alone get to meet them,” he said.
Also on hand last week was Dr. Matthew Landman, medical director for trauma at Riley, who saw Bri during her hospital stay, though he credited trauma surgeon Dr. Brian Gray and others for the bulk of her care.
“Dr. Gray, the nursing staff, operating room staff, plastic surgeons, rehab, physical therapy, a whole host of people worked to get her to where you see her today,” Dr. Landman said, as Bri stood quietly nearby.
“We are extremely pleased with the progress she’s made,” he added. “From where the EMS crew found her to where she is today is miraculous.”
It was when Dr. Landman and Bri chatted off to the side that the little girl’s sparkle was on full display.
“Where’s Dr. Gray,” she asked. “He told me to say hi,” Dr. Landman responded, adding, “You look great!”
As Angel McNeil told the surgeon the activities that Bri is eager to return to, the first-grader mentioned that she has a pool now at their new home. The family has moved out of the home where the shooting occurred.
“Oh, I’ll be over,” Dr. Landman said. “Dr. Gray and I will come by.”
That seemed OK with her, but she quickly switched subjects to the tie he was wearing with his white coat. When he told her he put it on for their reunion that morning, she scoffed. “Well then take it off!”
That’s the spunky Bri her mom knows and loves. Her youngest child is strong and spirited, she said.
It was that spirit and strength, coupled with the quick action of medical personnel, that pulled her through her devastating injuries.
Injuries that no child should suffer, Dr. Gray said in an earlier interview.
“She was sleeping in her bed … when a gun went off outside her house, and the bullet went through the wall of her home into the room where she was sleeping,” the surgeon said. “She sustained a severe gunshot wound through no fault of her own or anyone in her family.”
The bullet tore through her small body, entering her left side and exiting through her right upper abdomen and right forearm. She suffered injuries to one kidney, her adrenal glands, pancreas, large and small intestines, stomach, liver and one lung.
Today, her physical wounds have healed, though she continues therapy at Riley to manage pain and improve her mobility. The emotional wounds may take longer to dissipate. PTSD is always a concern with such a violent event, Dr. Landman said.
As Bri giggles and climbs aboard one of the firetrucks, her recovery seems assured. Even her mom wonders sometimes who is taking care of whom. She recalls something her daughter told her during her seven weeks of hospitalization at Riley.
“We got this, Mama,” Bri told her mom. “I’m gonna keep getting better. Just watch.”
Indeed, just watch.
Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com