Helping you live your best life

Skip main navigation
Group Created with Sketch.

Need help

What can we help you find?

Related Search Terms

Related Search Results


Natalie Rainer makes a remarkable recovery at VCU Health after being hit by a drunk driver

The Shining Knight Gala, an annual event held to benefit the trauma center, shares patient’s amazing story of tragedy and triumph.

Woman sitting up in a hospital bed. She is smiling and has her hair braided Natalie Rainer was recognized as this year's featured patient at VCU Health's Shining Knight Gala, which honors the emergency medicine first-responders, doctors, nurses and others who save trauma patients’ lives. (Photo contributed by Natalie Rainer)

By Danielle Pierce

On August 13, 2022, Natalie Rainer got ready for a bike ride with a close friend, Jonah Holland. It was something that the pair did often and this day should have been no different from any other.

However, tragedy struck on this ride, when a drunk driver claimed the life of her friend and altered the course of Natalie’s life forever.

Natalie and Jonah were cycling along Osborne Turnpike in Henrico County, Virginia when they were hit. Jonah died on the scene. Natalie sustained critical injuries and was transported to VCU Health’s VCU Medical Center, the only comprehensive Level I trauma center verified in the state for adult, pediatric and burn trauma care.


Unrivaled care at VCU Health’s Level I trauma center

Before getting to the trauma center, Natalie’s care team was already busy preparing for her arrival. The care team, made up of surgeons, doctors, nurses and many others, were notified in advance by the EMS team who were transporting Natalie, and they were able to begin developing their game plan for when she arrived.

“Everyone pre-assembles when we know a big trauma like this is coming in,” said Jeremy Sauer, M.D., physician in the emergency medicine department. “We put our heads together before the patient gets to us so that we can begin to determine a plan of action because every second is going to count in a situation like this.”

When Natalie arrived at VCU Health, she was suffering from internal bleeding around her liver, which required immediate surgery to stop the hemorrhaging. She also had bruised lungs and multiple broken bones, including a shattered pelvis, collarbone and broken ribs.

Her trauma care team worked around the clock, first stabilizing the internal bleeding, and then turning their focus to the other injuries. They also maintained close communication with Natalie’s family, providing updates and answering their questions with care and compassion.

Unsung heroes

Under the care of the trauma team, Natalie made remarkable progress. But her journey did not end with the trauma center. Natalie has worked with a number of teams at VCU Health to help repair broken bones, gain strength and mobility, and process the trauma and loss that she experienced.

It’s part of what makes VCU Health so unique.

“We provide a holistic approach to patient care that includes addressing the psychosocial impact of trauma. Our team of experts care for our patients’ and their families’ psychosocial needs, both while in the hospital and beyond,” said Michel Aboutanos, M.D., medical director of VCU Medical Center’s Level I trauma center.

The approach has not gone unnoticed.

“It’s an organization that’s just dedicated to helping people,” said Mike Rainer, Natalie’s father. “That’s the amazing thing. They are unsung heroes. I have so much gratitude for every single person who was involved in Natalie’s care - from the doctors and nurses to the people who prepared her food and took the trash out.”

Woman riding her bicycle on a street

Natalie Rainer is back on her bike, enjoying rides once again after several surgeries and a long recovery at VCU Health. (Photo contributed by Natalie Rainer)

‘I’m going to have to live for Jonah’

Part of Natalie’s recovery also meant learning that her close friend and riding partner had died as a result of the accident.
“We knew that her first question was going to be about Jonah,” Natalie’s father recalls. “When we told her, she said, ‘Well, I’m going to have to live for Jonah.’”

And she has done just that.

Natalie is doing her part to make sure that the roads are safer for pedestrians and bike riders by speaking with policy makers and advocating for infrastructures that protect riders and walkers.

Speaking at a BikeRVA event in November with policymakers in attendance, Natalie said, “I had no memory of the crash, so they had to tell me what happened to Jonah. At that moment, I said I would live the rest of my life making her proud."

About the Shining Knight Gala

Each year, VCU Health honors the emergency medicine first-responders, doctors, nurses and others who save trauma patients’ lives at the Shining Knight Gala.

The event raises funds for VCU Trauma Center’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program and honors those who protect and save lives in Central Virginia.

This year’s event took place Saturday, May 20 at the Richmond Convention Center with a dinner, awards program and this year’s featured patient, Natalie Rainer.   

Woman and man smiling at the camera. They are wearing helmets and athletic gear for riding their bicycles.

Natalie Rainer and her partner, Brian Evans, are avid cyclists. (Photo contributed by Natalie Rainer)

Sign Up for E-Newsletter