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Riley at IU Health Trauma Survivor and Coach Pagano To Make Big Indy 500 Entrance

Few kids can brag they get to meet Colts head coach, Chuck Pagano. But fly with him in a helicopter to the Indy 500? Yea right. Yet that’s precisely what 12-year-old Willie Avila will do. On Sunday, May 26, the bespectacled pre-teen will join coach Pagano aboard an IU Health LifeLine helicopter, soar above Indianapolis and land at the famed track. After taking a lap in an official pace car, Willie will deliver the green “start” flag, waiting anxiously for the cars to whip by in a colorful swarm. For Willie, this race will be a chance to have fun—a far cry from the one he recently faced: a race for his life.

In February, Willie slipped on the ice, slamming down on a curb, rupturing his spleen—enduring, in technical terms, a grade III of V splenic laceration. He was rushed an hour away to Riley at IU Health by LifeLine, where he was carefully monitored round-the-clock for internal bleeding. Because the spleen is a vital part of the immune system, the goal was to help Willie keep his. After four scary days, the Riley at IU Health trauma team deemed Willie to be out of immediate danger. He went back to his home in Anderson, Ind., spleen in-tact, but spent the next several weeks living as if in “bubble wrap,” careful to let the fist-size organ heal. “You never want your child to be in the hospital, let alone for a life-threatening injury,” said Trish Avila, Willie’s mom, but “he was in great, caring hands.”

Riley at IU Health is home to the state’s only Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center, the highest distinction—reserved only for centers that provide comprehensive care for all facets of injury. Willie was fortunate: Accidents remain a chief cause of death among U.S. children and teens, leading to countless hospitalizations annually. They are a key driver of the more than 1,000 trauma cases Riley at IU Health treats each year, which tend to spike in warmer months, helping the period between April to around September earn the dubious nickname “trauma season” by doctors across the country. Falls, car accidents, near-drownings, lawn mower injuries, bike injuries, pedestrian injuries and all-terrain vehicle accidents are among the culprits.

Like so many trauma patients, Willie has learned a weighty lesson: how quickly life can change. He is looking forward to savoring summertime with family and friends—starting with his big entrance on race day. “What a great way to celebrate,” said Trish. “This is the silver lining.”

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