It takes only a moment of inattention to change a life.
Larissa Gerow was riding her bike when a truck pulled out in front of her, slamming her body into a car.
Megan Fowler was on her way to pick up her niece when her car was t-boned at a country road intersection.
After his semi-formal dance, Alex Bueschleb was having drinks at a friend’s house when he fell down a flight of stairs.
All suffered injuries that will be with them forever, and all have words of wisdom for others. The three are telling their stories to high school students in the London area as part of the Impact (impaired/inattentive minds produce accidents causing trauma) program.
Impact was developed in 1998 by London Heath Sciences Centre (LHSC) to help prevent drunk driving by teens. It has since evolved to include other relevant topics, such as illicit drug use, distracted driving, self-harm, and bullying. In 2006 the team from St. Joseph’s spinal cord injury and acquired brain injury (ABI) rehabilitation programs joined the program to help students learn about the possible life-long medical consequences of a moment’s inattention from former patients like Gerow, Fowler, Bueschleb.
Psychologist Dr. Steve Orenczuk, psychometrist Connie Marshall and rehabilitation engineer Don Carlson are part of Parkwood Institute’s regional rehabilitation teams who help lead the Impact program. Students watch videos, receive injury-related information, and experiment with disability simulation activities. Most importantly, they hear from survivors of brain and spinal cord injuries.
Fowler was the director of marketing with a national broadcasting network when catastrophic injuries from her accident derailed her career. After seven weeks in a coma, she transferred to Parkwood Institute’s ABI program to learn to walk, talk and start piecing her memory back together. “It has taken a lot of hard work to recover physically and emotionally from the accident,” she says.
When Gerow was hit by the truck she never lost consciousness, asking those who rushed to help her not to move her because she knew right away her neck was broken. Now paralyzed from the neck down, she urges teens to “learn good driving habits, pay attention, look both ways and always wear a cycling helmet.”
For Bueschleb, the brain injury he sustained falling down the stairs led to emergency surgery and six weeks in acute care. Once transferred to the ABI program he began a process of recovery that included an extended stay at the Neurobehavioural Rehabilitation Centre learning to overcome challenges like temper flare-ups and crying jags resulting from the brain injury.
“When you drink it impairs your balance and judgment, increasing your risk of injury no matter where you are–whether in your car or in your home,” he warns.
“Life is fragile,” adds Marshall. “Our hope in offering the Impact program is to save lives by teaching students to be alert to situations that have the potential to cause them harm. Whether driving a car, riding a bike or attending a house party, it’s important for us to learn to make the right decisions. It can happen to you.”
Caution about texting and driving
Don Carlson from Rehab Engineering at St. Joseph’s cautions that talking on the phone while driving increases the risk of collision threefold. “The parts of the brain you use to drive are the same parts you use to compose a conversation – you cannot do both effectively,” says Don. He adds that texting and driving increases the risk of collision 27 times, and collisions resulting from cellphone distraction now exceed those caused by impaired driving. He suggests that when you’re driving you either put the phone out of reach or put it on silence, adding there are apps to avoid distraction from your phone when driving.