Bodacious Babes help get P.A.R.T.Y. started
Crash victims Kathi Sturgeon and Kathy Hurd “P.A.R.T.Y.ed” with Vista High School sophomores Friday. But this party at Folsom’s Mercy Hospital didn’t include balloons and music; it replaced the fun with drama and serious life lessons.
The Bodacious Biking Babe cyclists of El Dorado Hills took the Folsom students through the “Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth” interactive program that uses role playing and activities to drive home the tragic consequences of risky behaviors. Unlike the similarly themed “Every 15 minutes” program, in which high school seniors act out a grisly auto accident, PARTY addresses a wider range of risks, focuses on consequences, and importantly, targets sophomores.
“Our goal is to reach them before they start driving,” said Program Director Johanna Cunningham. “At this age, their decision-making skills are still developing.
“It’s about teaching kids that they’re not invincible, and that when they take risks, they’re often putting others in danger as well,” she added.
Vicki Fitzgerald founded the Sacramento-Placer-El Dorado Hills PARTY She and Cunningham brought the program to Mercy Hospital in Folsom last year with help from the El Dorado Hills Vision Coalition and some generous sponsors. Folsom and Oak Ridge High Schools also send their sophomore health classes to one of the monthly half-day programs.
Sturgeon helped make PARTY’s lessons real, sharing the story of her horrendous accident.
In June 2008 El Dorado Hills teen Brandi Thomas made a bad choice. She drove drunk and struck Sturgeon and Hurd while the women rode their bicycles on El Dorado Hills Boulevard. Hurd suffered several broken bones, including a shattered back. Sturgeon’s skull was crushed. She nearly died.
Thomas later pleaded guilty to DUI in a deal that put her in jail for a year.
Both women are now back on their bikes, although Sturgeon admits that she sometimes forgets to put her feet down when she stops. That’s just one of thousands of simple daily tasks she’s had to relearn since her brain injury and Friday she shared those frustrations with students.
Sturgeon conducted her own panel on rehabilitation. She had students don felt mittens and then challenged them to button a shirt, simulating what it’s like to relearn simple, day to day activities. She was all smiles, engaging the kids warmly, helping them with the mittens and chiding their repeated button failings.
“It can be done, but it takes some practice,” she said. “With head injuries, that’s what you go through over and over. Simple things like buttons can be unbelievably frustrating.”
Most had no idea what she’d been through until they saw posters behind her that graphically demonstrated the extent of her injury.
Friday’s program kicked off with Emergency Room Doctor David Smith presenting an updated version of “Red Asphalt,” the infamous driver’s education movie that has scared generations of new drivers into taking it easy.
Smith’s PowerPoint presentation depicted deadly accidents in process, and the gory aftermath of drunken, drugged, distracted and drowsy driving.
One moment an attractive girl’s face was on the screen. Smith called her “Porsche Girl” because she stole her father’s car and went for a 100 MPH joyride. The next slide showed a coroner technician sponging up her remains.
Nervous giggles turned into groans, then silence. A couple students felt ill.
Out in the parking lot, Folsom Police Sergeant Chris Emery and paramedic Colleen Youngblood set up a simulated crash site, complete with a demolished car. Students acted out the roles of victims and paramedics.
Youngblood talked about the indignity of a public accident scene … how the parents are affected, and what the immediate aftermath is like for the survivors.
Emery said afterward that the program works because “It opens their eyes. They don’t realize the consequences of their actions at this age. This lets them see first hand. It’s about choices and consequences.”
Paramedic Youngblood said she loves her job, but “when I’m having my best day you’re having your worst.”
She got the students’ attention by brandishing the tools of her trade — the large needles used for intravenous fluids and a special bone drill for situations when finding a victim’s vein is impossible. “We drill right into the arm, into the bone,” she explained, as the sophomores groaned in unison.
Volunteer Karen Osterman pointed to her 14-year-old daughter Kellie, who wore a teeth gnashing cringe as she heard Youngblood describe what goes on inside the ambulance and how the paramedics aren’t allowed to administer any painkillers.
“At this age they react to what they can see,” said Osterman. “Here they get to see, feel and touch it. It’s far more real than a classroom lecture.”
Studies in Canada, where the PARTY program was created, demonstrated that students who attended the program were involved in less auto accidents than those who didn’t. Despite its success, the program is only now catching on below the 49th parallel. The Sacramento-Placer-El Dorado Hills PARTY program is one of only eight in the United States. But that may soon change.
Vista Health instructor Kay McAleer said the program’s reputation was “spreading like wildfire” through high schools in the region.
Site Coordinator Fitzgerald hopes to soon be working with Marshal Hospital in El Dorado County and Sutter Roseville in Placer County. “It’s in the works,” she promised.
The whole truth
At Friday’s event an undercover narcotics officer manned the drug panel, and delivered the “straight dope” on the methamphetamine and Oxycontin crises. “Did you know that giving a friend a painkiller from your parents’ medicine cabinet carries the same punishment as selling heroin?” They did not.
Most also did not know that the blood alcohol limit for new drivers is zero.
The students donned “beer goggles” that simulate visual impairment from various levels of alcohol consumption and tried in vain to walk a straight line – all very funny; all very powerful.
The “Trauma Survivors Panel” was manned by three seemingly happy-go-lucky guys who survived traumatic brain injuries. All three suffered its signature memory and speech problems.
The scar on the side of Mike Cosme’s head was still visible, as was the dark spot on his throat where doctors cut a hole for a breathing tube during his month-long coma. His injuries made him “walk like a duck,” he said, doing a self-deprecating imitation of himself. He explained through a broad smile that his unsure gait left him with excruciating tendinitis.
The students were clearly taken aback, unsure whether they should act somber or share his infectious grin.
Cosme played panel emcee, interviewing, interrupting and sometimes arguing with his pals Juan Montoya and Robert Clein. Each described the details of their accident, their rehabilitation and what their life is like now.
It ain’t pretty
Montoya’s accident occurred while riding a friend’s torquey three-wheeled ATV on sand dunes in Nevada. The resulting brain injury deprived him of the memory of why he wasn’t wearing a helmet. “Maybe they didn’t have one that fit, or maybe I just didn’t feel like putting it on,” he mused.
In the ensuing tumble, the ATV struck him in the head. He was in a coma for three months, and in rehabilitation for years.
Montoya was a graduate student at Sac State before the accident that cost him his academic career, his friends and, eventually, his fianceé. He was on his way to normal, prosperous, fulfilling life, he said.
“Now I’m state supported,” he said, without a trace of self pity. “I don’t really have much of a life.”
Montoya said he’s grateful he survived, and especially grateful to all the people who helped him along the way. “But make no mistake, that accident took everything away from me.
“When something like this happens, you slow way down,” he explained. “You can’t remember simple things.”
His fianceé hung in for five years after the accident. “But we become different people when this happens,” he said.
“It’s nearly impossible to hang onto old friends,” he continued, then gesturing sardonically at his panel mates. “You end up hanging around with guys like these,” prompting a round of good-natured head shaking and snorting from his panel-mates.
Cosme interrupted Montoya’s story frequently, rushing his friend through the most sensitive portions. To the students, it seemed awkward and disrespectful.
But not to Montoya, who seemed to understand that his brain-injured friend meant no harm.
Clein got no better treatment from Cosme, who delivered each interruption with the same rubber-faced grin. By the time Cosme got around to telling his story, the back-and-forth between the three had risen to the level of bad comedy.
They shared the details of their injuries and their shattered lives as if reminiscing a camping trip ruined by a sudden cloudburst. The overall effect left the students stony-faced, not knowing if they should enjoy the banter or to be saddened by it.
The completely unsupervised and spontaneous panel created the type of powerfully raw experience that PARTY founders believe can change behavior, cause kids to think twice before getting in a car with a friend who’s been drinking, dive in shallow water or get on a dirt bike without a helmet.
After the students filed out, the three men shared that they’d come to try and make a difference in someone else’s life. Having been dealt one of life’s worst hands they were back in the game, playing with house money, grateful for the chance to deal one sophomore an ace.
Clein summed it up. “What else can I contribute at this point?”
For more information about the local PARTY program visit www.partyprogram.biz. To make a tax deductible donation to the local program make checks payable to P.A.R.T.Y. and send donations to:
Director of Fundraising
P.O. Box 1342, Folsom, CA 95763
**Donors of $50 or more, please give us your e-mail address so we can send our newsletter filled with tips, stories and ways to keep your teen safe. Tax receipts will be issued for contributions as requested.