Preventable accidents are the leading cause of death and disability for youth aged 15 to 19. Unfortunately, what starts out as harmless fun for teenagers can lead to tragedy.
The PARTY (Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth) Program aims to change that through an awareness and prevention program.
On Nov. 16 and 17, the program was delivered to Grade 11 and 12 students at Creston Valley Secondary School by Kootenay Employment Services (KES), in partnership with student counsellor Kat Coleman.
The PARTY program was first delivered in Creston in the early 90s, after four young people were killed in accidents caused by impaired driving. After a hiatus of several years, KES staff hopes to keep the program ongoing for the future.
“It is a very purposefully graphic way to give youth information about drug- and alcohol-related situations in the hopes of giving them more knowledge to avoid making poor choices,” said Beth Hurst, regional programs manager for KES.
“Students learn that vehicle crashes are not accidents, and that traumatic injury can be prevented. They learn the harsh consequences of not wearing a seat belt, operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding, and distracted driving.”
In two different groups, the students were taken through demonstrations with medical professionals from the scene of the crash to the hospital to the funeral home.
Many volunteers stepped up to lend their expertise including Dr. Nerine Kleinhans and her team at Creston Valley Hospital, the Creston Fire Department and Asst. Chief Laura Dodman, Constable Brett Urano from Creston RCMP, Jason Deatheridge from the B.C. Ambulance Services, and Jason Meidl from the Creston Valley Funeral Services.
“This team of professionals demonstrated the importance of informed choices, as they presented a graphic play-by-play account of a crash scene,” said Hurst.
After the demonstrations, KES facilitators led discussions to create an impactful learning opportunity.
Then, the students were introduced to survivors who have been severely impacted by choices made by youth under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Will Heykamp, Brandy Dyer, and Kevin Holmes spoke about their experiences and shared the lasting effects of the trauma on their own lives.
In 2003, Heykamp had been enjoying a carefree day drinking and partying with his friends at Yahk Days. Once the local pub announced last call, Heykamp and three others decided to hit the road and head to a house party. But they never made it there.
On the highway, their car was hit head-on by a drunk driver at 100 km/hr. The driver was another girl who had been drinking at Yahk Days earlier in the night. She had decided to get behind the wheel to head back to the bar.
The impact caused the seatbelt to break Heykamp’s ribs and dislocate his shoulder. He collided with the seat in front of him breaking 14 bones in his face. A speaker that wasn’t bolted down in the trunk also hit him and cut open the top of his head.
One of his friends sitting in the front passenger seat went through the windshield and died instantly.
“It felt like I’d been hit in the face with a baseball bat,” said Heykamp. “At the hospital, my own mother didn’t recognize me because my face was so smashed up.”
For 90 days, his jaw was wired shut to repair the damage. He also when through 12 hours of facial reconstruction surgery.
And although he is now 37 years old, Heykamp still feels the effects today. He suffers from chronic back pain and still doesn’t have feeling in parts of his face.
“The message I want to send to you is to slow down a little bit,” he said to the students. “Take the time to make good choices because there can be repercussions for the rest of your life. It’s a shame. It’s a waste.”
The program would not be possible without generous community sponsors including KES, Columbia Basin Trust, Brewery Union and the Columbia Brewery, Tratech Mechanical, W.H. Excavating, Save-On-Foods, the Town of Creston and areas A, B, and C.
Pending funding and volunteers, the program will run again next year. For more information or to get involved, contact Beth Hurst at 250-428-5655.