March 3, 2003
Jackson hospital announces major new statewide effort to reduce drunk driving, increase seat belt use among teens
By Jim Albritton
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Methodist Rehabilitation Center today announced a major effort to reduce drunk driving and encourage seat belt use among Mississippi teens.
Surrounded by public safety officers and safety advocates, Mark Adams, the Jackson hospital’s president and CEO, outlined a statewide campaign designed to prevent devastating traumatic injuries.
The high school and college-based program, Think First for Teens, will focus on ways students can avoid these often life changing injures and will feature former patients who were injured as teenagers.
“Over the next year we hope to put together a statewide coalition of safety advocates interested in participating in a comprehensive program designed to encourage teens to always think first about what they’re doing. We think it is crucial that high school and college students hear our message from teens and others who’ve had to battle back from often preventable injuries,” said Adams. “This program is designed to serve as a warning to young people who all too often think they are indestructible.”
The teen safety program will also include other elements intended to drive that message home, Adams added. “Each program will include a dramatic demonstration of how quickly an injury can occur and how destructive it can be.”
Rankin County-based Child Safety Programs will demonstrate its roll over simulator—a truck-based device that simulates what happens to a person when they are in a roll over accident and not restrained.
“The simulator shows teens how easily they can be thrown from an automobile if they’re not wearing a seat belt,” said Lisa Valadie, a Rankin County paramedic and education director for Child Safety Programs. “It demonstrates the force and speed a body can be thrown from a vehicle. And it makes everyone think twice about not wearing a seat belt, but especially teenagers, many of whom have just started driving.”
Think First for Teens will also regularly feature speakers like Clinton Police Sgt. Creston Berch who suffered a severe brain and spinal cord injury on the job six years ago when he and his partner were speeding on Interstate 20, late for a training exercise, trying to make up for lost time. Neither officer was wearing a seat belt.
As Berch tells the story, he speaks with true conviction. When Berch’s partner lost control of the vehicle, it careened across three lanes of traffic and across the median where it was struck head-on by another car. His partner died instantly. Berch spent months at Methodist Rehabilitation Center learning to walk again. But he’s always quick to tell teens, he was lucky.
Speakers like Berch are very effective when they talk to students, said Lauren Fairburn, Think first for Teens coordinator. “Our programs will include several injury prevention topics, but Creston and our other speakers will primarily focus on the necessity of always wearing seat belts. If we leave students with nothing else, we hope they take that message to heart.”
Hayden Perkins, a third-year dental student at the University of Mississippi Medical Center also often speaks about the importance of wearing seat belts—something he wasn't doing when he had his accident.
“I'm paralyzed for life because I didn't take five seconds to put my seat belt on. You can still do a lot of things (after paralysis). It just takes a lot more effort."
Perkins was 15 years old and a ninth-grader at Deer Creek School, an academy in Arcola close to his Hollandale home, when he agreed to run an errand for a friend one afternoon. The weather was good and there was no other car involved, but Perkins lost control of his truck. The truck flipped and he was thrown out, crushing two vertebrae.
Up to that point the biggest thing on his mind was his position as starting quarterback for his school football team in a championship season. Suddenly he was dealing with news that he would never walk again. It was the beginning of some difficult years. That's why he has embraced Methodist Rehab’s new injury prevention program and will be a frequent speaker.
Other elements of the program will focus on drinking and driving and drug use.
Fairburn said the program will include safety officers from around the state like Sgt. Gary Davis, the drug education officer for the Ridgeland Police Department. Sgt. Davis and his drug dog will participate in most Think First teen programs in the Jackson metro area.
“We will also be working with drug and alcohol prevention advocates all over the state,” Fairburn said. One of them will be Debra Mason, a Nationwide Insurance representative who coordinates that company’s Prom Promise—a national campaign that encourages teens to make a promise not to drink and drive during Prom season. Mason’s presentation to students will include the use of special goggles that show how use of alcohol can cause blurred vision and loss of balance.
“By working with safety advocates all over the state we hope to quickly have an impact on the number and severity of preventable teen injuries,” said Fairburn. “And we are working with researchers to create a survey designed to measure the impact of our efforts. We want to determine the most effective ways to reach our audience.”
The first Think First for Teens program is March 4 at Olde Towne Middle School in Ridgeland. Seventh and 8th graders at the school will participate in the program during two sessions at 1 and 2 p.m.
For Methodist Rehab organizing and running a statewide safety program is nothing new. Since March 2001, more than 16,000 elementary school students all across the state have learned the importance of wearing bike helmets, always buckling up and avoiding dangerous situations whenever possible. “The Think First for Kids program has been embraced by Mississippi educators,” said Lisa Uzzle Gates, Think First for Kids coordinator.
“Our elementary programs will continue as we create and expand the teen program all across the state from Gulfport to Tupelo. The lessons we’ve learned while organizing and coordinating Think First for Kids will be very helpful as we build the new teen program.”
For more information:
Buckle up campaign targets teens | The Clarion-Ledger