WARSAW — When she was born, Camille Kerlin, Warsaw, was given a 5 percent chance of survival. Born two and a half months premature, Kerlin only weighed 2 pounds and had a series of heart abnormalities.
Now, 19 years later, Kerlin has defied the odds in numerous ways and has earned the right to be Kosciusko County’s youngest Bicentennial torchbearer.
Kerlin was born with what is known as transposition of the great vessels of the heart, double outlet right ventricle and a hole between her ventricles. She was taken to Riley Hospital for Children, Indianapolis, where she underwent a procedure that is credited with saving her life.
It did not end there, however. At age 2, she underwent open-heart surgery. At age 7, she had another. Her third came when she was just 13. From all appearances, playing sports was not in the cards for a young Kerlin.
Kerlin, however, had other ideas. With the go-ahead from her doctors at Riley, Kerlin went on to play varsity tennis for Warsaw Community High School, then at Indiana University where she is currently majoring in marketing. Not wanting to stop there Kerlin wanted to give back to the hospital that saved her life.
Her first thought was to organize a 5K. However, because she cannot participate in sustained cardiac activity, a race was out. So, Kerlin turned to one sport she could participate in — tennis. Organizing Racquets for Riley, Kerlin raised $11,000 in the fundraiser’s first year and $14,000 in the second year.
All proceeds from the event went to the KC Riley Kids Fund for Kosciusko County residents who are also Riley patients.
Taking life easy has never interested Kerlin. Besides tennis, she also participated in dance. This included ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance and pointe. She has been on the Riley Dance Marathon marketing committee at IU and was a 2015 Riley Champion. She was a Riley Coin Toss Kid for the Colts and a Center Court kid for the Pacers.
“A lot of people tell me I should probably just sit on the couch and that’s not how I am at all,” Kerlin said. “A lot of people said, ‘I can’t believe your mom would let you do that, but I have clearance from my doctors.”
In sixth grade, Kerlin took part in a community track meet. The irony was not lost on her family.
“We had this nurse, Debbie, who said at one time, ‘she probably won’t be your track star,’ and I said, ‘that’s OK,'” Kerlin’s mom, Diane Kerlin, said.
The family remained in close contact with Debbie and the day of the track meet, Kerlin’s dad gave her a call.
“He said, ‘this is Rick Kerlin and you’ll never guess what we’re doing,'” Debbie said, grinning.
Kerlin is not yet sure how she will carry the torch or what part of the route she will be on, but she looks forward to representing her town, her county and her state in that capacity.
“She is a very dedicated Hoosier,” Diane said. “She was born and raised here and her family goes generations back in Kosciusko and Wabash Counties.”