November 23, 2021

22 years after near-fatal shooting, nurse, survivor reunite

Madison, Wis. – On June 11, 1999, the lives of two women were impacted forever.

Their encounter was brief, but lifesaving, and the two had not reconnected since that tragic day 22 years ago.

That day, Robin Kerl, then 24, had left the Walmart on Madison’s west side with her fiancé when an ex-boyfriend attacked them, shooting her and her fiancé, killing him and critically wounding her.

Moments later, a UW Health Med Flight helicopter was dispatched carrying Kim Maerz, a flight nurse, as well as a board-certified emergency medicine physician. The work of the people at the scene, the addition of this skilled physician and nurse flight crew and the speed of the helicopter transport greatly increased Kerl’s chance for survival, and amazingly, she survived.

Robin went on to regain her abilities to walk and talk, while Kim continued her work as a Med Flight nurse saving many more lives.

Twenty-two years later, they met again.

This time, they met under much different circumstances – at a Med Flight helicopter base at University Hospital.

Words couldn’t really express what it was like to see Kerl again, according to Maerz.

“It’s been 22 years and I truly didn’t think she was going to make it,” she said. “I can’t believe she is walking, talking, communicating and participating; the power of the human being and the will to live is Robin all over.”

Every patient truly leaves a lasting impression on the Med Flight nurses and physicians who care for them, according to Anne Rikkers, director of pre-hospital care and medical transport, UW Health.

“Hearing from their patients after their transport is incredibly rewarding and reinvigorating,” she said.

The reunion was really the result of a chance encounter.

Maerz’s youngest son dates an employee at a gym where Kerl works out, and she noticed Kerl had a Med Flight t-shirt on and asked her if she had flown in the helicopter, Maerz said.

When the employee told Kerl she knew someone at Med Flight, Kerl asked if she could send an email to Maerz to see if she could meet the crew who had cared for her.

“The day I opened that email up and it was Robin, I became very tearful,” she said. “It was one of the warmest days of my career.”

So, during one of this year’s first snowfalls, Robin was able to meet Kim again under much better circumstances.

Kerl toured the Med Flight helicopter hangar, sat in the program’s newest helicopter and spent time with the nurse who, according to Kerl, is responsible for her being alive today.

“It feels so nice to finally meet Kim, the person who saved my life for me,” Kerl said. “It’s such a blessing, she’s helped me in my recovery, and I thank her so much for all her help that day.”