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Students learn what it’s like to be an injury survivor

FORT FRANCES—Groups of Grade 10 students from the Civics class at Fort Frances High School participated in the “Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth” (P.A.R.T.Y.) program at La Verendrye Hospital here last Wednesday and Friday.

The newly-implemented program focuses on injury prevention and making smart choices, and showed the teens what it’s like to live as an injury survivor.

“It’s a critical that we offer this program,” stressed FFHS vice-principal Brian Love. “Getting this message out to young people is going to be life-saving. . . .

“It’s a multi-pronged attack to make them aware of the risks they take,” he added. “We should be doing anything we can to make sure they make the right choices.”

The day-long program took students through the different aspects of being involved in a tragic event—from the response teams arriving at the scene to being rushed into the emergency room to being transferred to intensive care.

“We hope this helps you to understand the consequences and realities of making bad choices,” John Beaton, local P.A.R.T.Y. program co-ordinator, stressed to the students.

He indicated about 90 percent of injuries are preventable and in order to reduce the chances of getting hurt, people can make smart choices to drive sober, get trained, look first, buckle up, and wear the gear.

“The choice is yours,” Beaton said, indicating to the participants that they would learn the realities of brain and spinal cord injuries.

“These injuries cannot be fixed,” he noted. “And often they make simple tasks—like walking, getting dressed, speaking, and writing—difficult.”

The students first heard from paramedic supervisor Ed Carlson, paramedics Doug Rydell and Dave Black, and Wayne Riches of the Fort Frances Fire and Rescue Service.

They explained the procedure for making 9-1-1 calls and how emergency teams respond to the call, noting that sometimes it can take more than an hour to get help for those involved in a crash or other accident.

“We have to make sure the scene is safe,” stressed Riches. “It’s more than just coming and getting you out of the vehicle. We have to ensure it’s safe before anyone can get to you.

“Once access is gained, the EMS take over.”

The paramedics demonstrated how they strap an injured individual to a backboard, using a Grade 10 volunteer as the injured party. They secured his neck with a collar and taped his head to the board.

The participants became aware of the how uncomfortable and alarming it would be in such a serious situation like that.

Next the students headed to the emergency room, where nursing supervisor Cathy Bock showed how the staff prepares before the patient comes through the door.

She had volunteers help to get the IV ready and then demonstrated preparation of the heart rate monitor, oxygen machine, and tools.

Then once the “patient” (a dummy complete with fake bloody wounds) arrived, volunteers helped to transfer it to the bed. And Bock had a participant continually use a bag valve mask to provide ventilation to the “patient.”

Another student used a stethoscope to check out the “patient” while another learn how to insert the IV.

Bock also demonstrated the insertion of a chest tube and catheter, the use of the defibrillator, and showed how a patient would be hooked up to a ventilator.

“There are lots of people and lots of noise in the emergency room,” she stressed, indicating bright lights will shine, fingers will be poking and prodding, tubes will be inserted, and needles will be used to draw blood.

She noted often the patient’s clothes are cut off so the hospital staff can determine the extent of the injuries. And she added they may work on the patient for several hours before he or she is taken to surgery or to the Intensive Care Unit.

In addition, it was noted there are some injuries that can’t be taken care of at La Verendrye Hospital and so the patient is stabilized and transported.

Next the students heard from physiotherapist Deidre O’Sullivan, who taught them about the rehabilitation process for someone who has suffered from a brain or spinal cord injury.

“It’s a long process and it can be pretty lonely,” she noted, adding sometimes the injury survivor has to be admitted to another hospital because they don’t have the facilities here to help them.

“Your family and friends may not be able to spend all of the time with you.”

And O’Sullivan explained the nurses and family members become the patient’s total caregivers, although the individual is taught to do as much as possible for themselves.

O’Sullivan said the brain can become damaged on both sides when struck. Since the cells do not grow back, it can make the individual unable to understand simple commands or effects the memory.

“You would have to learn things over,” she noted. “And a person’s behaviour changes. They can become abusive or self-destructive. Sometimes they have to wear a mitt and be tied down.

“These people aren’t normally like that, but the injury makes their personality change.”

She explained a brain injury also may effect physical function and vision. Accident victims sometimes have to live in assisted housing with other people and often are too tired to work or go to school.

Meanwhile, she noted a spinal cord injury effects the information highway from the brain to an individual’s arms and legs. If there is a break in the vertebra, they messages don’t get through.

Depending on where the damage is on the spinal cord, O’Sullivan said, people can become a paraplegic (can’t use legs) or a quadriplegic (can’t use arms or legs).

“Often with spinal cord injuries, the patient is stuck in bed and gets pressure sores, which aren’t very nice. And going to the bathroom isn’t pleasant, either,” she said, citing catheters and suppositories are used.

“And they sometimes go through depression because life is so different,” she added. “It’s a big knock to someone’s self-esteem.”

O’Sullivan said in order to have a relationship, you have to be with someone very understanding of the condition.

“Lots of people would have a hard time understanding and they might even lose some people in their life,” she warned. “It’s not to say they can’t have a fulfilling life, but everything would be very different.”

Dr. Jason Shack also spoke to the teens about making the right choices. He explained crashes and collisions are not accidents because they usually can be prevented.

“Life would be boring if you didn’t take risks, but be smart about the risks you take,” he stressed.

The participants also had lunch at the hospital that they brought themselves, but they ate as though they had a brain or spinal cord injury.

Using neck braces and a special masks with a toilet paper roll attached to simulate tunnel vision, the students tried to eat without the use of their fingers.

They often had to depend on others for help.

While there were a lot of laughs and giggles, Love noted he’s sure they received the message loud and clear.

“There’s no substitute for the hands-on experience of the hardships other people face,” he remarked.

The students also tried to write checks without using their fingers and traced a simple maze while looking in the mirror—more simulations of easy tasks that can be made difficult with brain or spinal cord injuries.

To close the program, Fort Frances OPP Cst. Doug Irish spoke about the legal implications of drinking and driving. The participants also watched a film called “The Ripple Effect,” which had real-life victims sharing their stories.

It became evident that making a bad decision could also effect their friends, family, and community—or even people they don’t know.

Beaton noted the next time they hold the P.A.R.T.Y. program, they’d like to have an injury survivor from the area speak to the students. If anyone is willing to do that, they can contact him at 274-2618.

“The program went very well,” Beaton added. “It gets them [the students] involved and it gets them thinking.”

He indicated they are looking to expand the program to include the high schools in Atikokan and Rainy River next year, as well as to develop a similar program for local Grade 7/8 students.

“We have to reach the kids who are possibly at risk,” Beaton stressed, thanking all those who helped to make the first run of the P.A.R.T.Y. program a success.

(Fort Frances Times)

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