By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
Even behind the face mask, the Indianapolis firefighter knew the man in the white coat looked familiar.
Dr. Matthew Landman, medical director for trauma at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, was at the Pike Township fire station to see a little girl who had recovered from a gunshot wound. What he didn’t know was that standing next to him was the father of another former patient.
Steve Mitchell, paramedic and deputy chief of operations, approached Dr. Landman and told him the story of his teenage son Jack, now almost 19 and preparing to head to Purdue University in the fall to study physics.
It was two years ago when Mitchell and his wife, Beth, rushed their son to a Southside hospital with what turned out to be a ruptured appendix. Jack, who has a twin named Jake, was later transported to Riley, where Dr. Landman operated on the teen.
Mitchell recalled that Jack had multiple complications requiring extra procedures and a longer hospital stay than normal, but he is as good as new today.
“He went to semi-state in cross country last fall,” Mitchell told the surgeon, as he showed him pictures on his phone, later quipping, “He’s running much faster because he’s not carrying that heavy appendix.”
“I’ll take some credit for that,” Dr. Landman joked.
WHEN THE DOCTOR WAS THE PATIENT
It so happens the doctor’s own emergency appendectomy as a boy growing up in Iowa led him into the medical field, he said.
“As a kid, you have pretty simplistic thinking,” he said in an earlier interview. “You go into the hospital feeling bad, this person comes in and makes it better, and you leave feeling great. It was pretty profound, and it (a medical career) just made sense as I went through high school and college.”
Now he hopes he might inspire other young people to consider medicine as a career.
“It’s hard to believe that something that long ago ignited that interest in me, and here I am now effecting that sort of care in kids,” the surgeon said.
When Mitchell showed his son a picture of Dr. Landman taken at the fire station earlier this month, Jack immediately recognized him, even with his mask on.
“Jack has had one traumatic experience, but Dr. Landman sees sick kids all the time,” Mitchell said.
As a first responder, Mitchell knows what it’s like to transport patients to the hospital, then wonder what becomes of them. He figures surgeons might not always get to see their patients when they’re back on their feet, so he wanted to at least thank the doctor and tell him how well Jack is doing.
“That’s him running,” he told the doctor, as he scrolled through photos on his phone.
“That’s so cool,” Dr. Landman replied. “I’m really glad you said something.”
As a trauma surgeon, these are gratifying moments – reconnecting with patients and families in better days, after what is often one of the worst times of their lives.
LEARNED FROM THE BEST
Dr. Landman assumed the role of medical director for trauma at Riley last summer. He took over for retiring surgeon Dr. Thomas Rouse, who leaves Riley next month after three-plus decades.
“He has the wisdom of decades of pediatric surgery and leadership of programs under his belt,” Dr. Landman said of his colleague. “He has this incredible way about him in which he can get people to come together in a way that is almost an art. I paid a lot of attention to how he did that.”
“Dr. Rouse has been a huge inspiration for me as trauma director. He really provided an excellent template for me to follow as I assumed that role,” Dr. Landman said.
As Indiana’s only Level 1 pediatric trauma center (verified by the American College of Surgeons since 1993), Riley Hospital sees a range of injuries coming through its emergency department. Some of the worst involve motor vehicle accidents, gunshots, burns, abuse and neglect, drowning and lawnmower accidents.
“We’ve seen increased numbers of gunshot wounds annually since 2015,” said Dr. Landman, attributing it to unattended guns at home, as well as the rise in interpersonal violence and random violence.
“It’s almost predictable now that we’ll have one or two (gunshot patients) a week, whereas before it was much more rare,” he said. “No one really goes into pediatric surgery thinking they’ll be taking care of gunshot wounds, but kids aren’t immune to this sort of violence.”
Dr. Landman, who begins his seventh year at Riley this summer, had what sounds like an idyllic childhood in rural Iowa before following his dream to become a doctor. He came to Riley from Children’s Hospital Colorado seven years ago. Before that, he spent 11 years in Nashville, Tenn., for medical school and residency at Vanderbilt University.
He was drawn to trauma surgery because of his desire to help kids. His own brother suffered a traumatic injury in a car accident. Certainly, education and safety initiatives are the keys to reducing childhood trauma, but kids are still going to get hurt, he said.
“We’re happy to try to effect a positive outcome for each one of those patients, regardless of what’s brought them in the door, so they can reach some sense of wholeness again.”
Dr. Landman gives a shout out to his entire trauma team, including his surgical partners – Dr. Alan Ladd, Dr. Brian Gray, Dr. Deborah Billmire, Dr. Fred Rescorla, Dr. Tom Rouse, Dr. Troy Markel and Dr. Robert Cartland Burns.
The camaraderie and the community of the hospital helps when dealing with difficult cases, he said.
“The Riley family comes together to support each other when there are major accidents, injuries, things that really bring childhood illness, disease and violence to the forefront. We rely a lot on each other.”
COVID put a halt to the development of a trauma survivors program, but Dr. Landman is still hoping to get it going within the next year. Before launching, he said, it’s critical to have the resources in place to support people once they’re identified as being in need of services.
“We come to work every day and we’re surrounded by injuries and illness and surgeries, and I think it’s good for us as physicians to remind ourselves that this is not normal,” he said.
Families can be devastated, so understanding how to help beyond stitches and surgeries is important.
“If we can do anything to make it better for them, it’s an awesome opportunity.”