Students learn from mock accident, crash victim

By Mark Petterson
Coffey County Republican – April 11, 2014
Submitted by Newz Group Clipping Service – April 18, 2014

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Coffey County junior and senior high school students learned an important life lesson Wednesday morning, in preparation for upcoming proms. They attended a mock car crash assembly at Memorial Stadium in Kelley Park.

The mock disaster is held every two years prior to prom to remind students about real consequences of drinking and driving and other poor decisions. Juniors and seniors from all four Coffey County high schools are invited to attend. Students from Burlington, Waverly and Southern Coffey County high schools attended this year.

Sponsored by the Burlington High School chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions, the “real time” demonstration showed students the actual actions various emergency responders go through at an injury or fatality vehicle accident.

The lesson continued when Jenny Scheve, an emergency department and trauma nurse, vividly described the devastating effects of traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries she has seen from vehicle crashes.

The lesson hit home for many students when Heather Tice spoke about the lasting effects of a broken neck she suffered in a single-vehicle crash eight years ago, a month before her 16th birthday. Tice is an incomplete quadriplegic–she has use of her hands–and she told about how her day-to-day activities have changed, because of her injury.

Scheve and Tice are speakers with Think First of Greater Kansas City, an injury prevention program presented by inspiring survivors of brain and spinal cord injuries. Their goal is to urge youth to take personal responsibility and make safe choices, from using a seatbelt and cutting down the distractions within a vehicle to never drink and drive.

After the Wreck

“When you are a victim of a car wreck, those seconds and minutes can seem like days. It is the scariest time of your life,” said Scheve, who ran the emergency department and trauma service at Research Medical Center in Kansas City for a number of years. “I have seen injuries like you just witnessed.”

Scheve specifically talked about brain and spinal cord injuries.

“The body loves to heal…we can fix so many things, but your brain and spinal cord is a whole different story,” Scheve said. “Your brain and your spinal cord are the only two things you have in your body that medically, we cannot fix. It is so important that you know what these things are, what they do, and how to keep them safe.”

Scheve described a traumatic brain injury and the victim falling into a coma. “The longer you are in a coma, the harder it is to wake up out of that coma,” she said. “And if you do, it is like you are a newborn baby. You have to learn how to do everything in life all over again.”

She described a person waking from a coma trying to talk, but garbling words; drooling because they forgot how to swallow; tubes in and out of every orifice of their body; complete strangers wiping their bottom, because they forgot how to go to the bathroom.

“You guys, these injuries are humiliating, they are horrific, and they are real,” Scheve stressed. “Your life can change in an absolute second, and it changes forever.”

These injuries affect more than just the victim. They affect family, friends, communities, and anyone who knows the victim.

The spinal cord is an extension of the brain. Put together, the brain and spine act like the body’s computer system, sending messages throughout the body. “It is messages going back and forth really fast through your brain and spinal cord that help us to do every single thing that we do,” Scheve said. “Think of your spinal cord as the cord that connects your ear bud to your iPod. If I cut that cord, can you hear? No.”

The same thing happens if you sever your spinal cord, you will lose the ability to move or feel anything from that point on down. “If you sever your spinal cord around your belly button area, you will lose the ability to control your bowels, your bladder, sexual functioning, and your legs–forever,” she said.

A spinal cord can be injured in a number of different ways–blunt force, bone compression or pinch, bone shatter, fracture or break. “All it takes is a fingernail sliver size of bone to cut through that very delicate spinal cord. Depending on where that injury is and how extensive it is will determine your level of independence in the long run,” Scheve said.

Heather’s Story

During the mock accident, Tice sat in the driver’s seat of a silver Pontiac Grand Am. Looking into the car, Tice appeared to be a normal young person. While Scheve spoke to the students, Tice drove near to Scheve and, in full view of the students, began the long process of getting out of her car. She started by grabbing the frame of wheelchair, then attached each wheel, the seat and finally the back.

For 15 years, Tice was completely normal. “I wasn’t born in this chair…my life didn’t always involve a disability,” she said.

Raised by a single mom, Tice said she was a straight-A student in school. She had two older siblings and looked forward to leaving the Midwest to attend college somewhere warm and sunny.

“Every choice I made for myself was leading me in that direction,” Tice said. “But, I also made some really bad decisions that, at the time, I thought was just good times with friends.”

She had her learner’s permit and had been driving for some time. One more month and she would turn 16 and get her driver’s license. Most of her friends were the same age. One of her really good friends, also 15, didn’t have her learner’s permit and had never driven a car before.

“Driving doesn’t seem like rocket science,” Tice explained. “So, on July 12005, when my friend wanted to drive, I didn’t see the big deal…what is dangerous about it?

“Boy, was I wrong.”

Four people went for a drive that afternoon. Tice’s 15-year-old friend drove the car of another friend, who sat in the front seat. Tice sat behind the passenger seat and the boyfriend of the car’s owner sat behind the driver’s seat.

“That was my first mistake. The second mistake is I didn’t put my seatbelt on,” Tice said.

On their way home, her friend turned down a really narrow country road, which was a shortcut. “We knew we didn’t want to get pulled over and get busted, because we knew what she was doing was wrong. So, we stuck to the back roads,” she said.

The accident happened only two minutes away from Tice’s home.

“Things got really chaotic really fast,” she said. “It takes just one second for everything to go wrong. She lost control of the car. She panicked because she was inexperienced. She slammed on the gas, instead of the brake…and we were going about 70 mph when we slammed into the tree-70 mph to zero in a split second.”

And Tice wasn’t wearing her seatbelt.

The impact broke her neck. “I have a C7 spinal cord injury and I am paralyzed from the chest down,” Tice said.

She spent three weeks in the intensive care unit, and after gaining some strength was flown to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb. At Madonna, she had to learn how to do absolutely everything from her chair.

Life After the Accident

Tice described her life after the accident. “Your life is different. I don’t get to leave here and just hang the chair up. I am in this chair from the time I get up until the time I go to bed. It is my mobility,” she said. “Eventually, the physical things you figure out–taking a shower, getting dressed, going to the bathroom–all of which you really have no choice. But, it is the emotional damage–the way people treat you, the way that they see you.”

Tice says she is lucky to live completely independent. She doesn’t need help with anything. She finished high school, went to college and received a bachelor’s degree in social work. She is working on a master’s degree in social work and she will graduate in May. She is considering returning to school next year to get a master’s degree in health care administration.

“I really want to work advocating for people with disabilities, because right now able-bodied people do all of the advocating,” she said. “I can live an amazing life, I just do things differently. Society just hasn’t quite got there, yet.”

She said dating is incredibly difficult and keeping friends around is incredibly difficult, because she is constantly hitting barriers and obstacles.

“You don’t heal. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get better,” Tice said. “You learn to manage. This injury is life-long. You don’t get fixed. Doctors can’t fix you. It doesn’t go away in time. I have been in this chair for eight long years, and I still have a long life ahead of me. I will forever be in this chair.”

Tice said seatbelts not only save lives, but they prevent her type of injuries. “That is the most frustrating part of people dying and getting injured–it is preventable,” she said. “It doesn’t have to happen. Your life is worth so much more.

“So, if anything just buckle up. Remember my story. Remember, it can happen to anybody at any time,” she concluded.

Distracted Driving

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of traumatic injury among young people. Scheve said the No. 1 cause of crashes is distracted driving, which Sheriff Randy Rogers later confirmed. Cell phones are a major contributor to inattention.

“Talking on a cell phone while driving is the same as having a 0.08 blood alcohol level,” Scheve said. “It changes your reflexes so much that you may as well be legally drunk.

“Texting while driving slows your reflexes by more than 30 percent. Guys, there is not one phone call or one text that is worth this,” she said.

Scheve encouraged students to keep distractions to a minimum.

Buckle Up

Other good choices students can make include wearing seatbelts and to never drink and get behind the wheel of a car. “You, as a driver of a car, are legally responsible for everyone in the car with you,” Scheve said. “If you have some yahoo in the backseat who thinks he is too cool to buckle up…you tell them to get the heck out of your car. It is not worth it, legally and otherwise.”

To help get the picture, Scheve described three parts to a crash. First, the car stops suddenly. Second, your body is still traveling the same speed the car was traveling and it will stop when it hits something–hopefully a combination of a seatbelt and an airbag. Third, your internal organs are still traveling the speed that car was going and they will crash up against your bone structure…they will tear, they will rip, they will burst.

If you are not wearing a seatbelt, you will be thrown around in the car and eventually out of the car. “If you are ejected out of the car, three out of four of you will die at the scene. That doesn’t count those who die en route to the hospital. That doesn’t count those who have died in our arms in the E.R. That doesn’t count those who die on the operating table, or who die weeks later from complications in ICU,” Scheve said.

“People who die in car wrecks die a very violent death,” she said.

“All I want you to do is to think first, make the right choices,” Scheve said. “Think every time you get behind the wheel of a car. Think of Heather. Think of the (emergency responders). Think about what you have seen today. We just want you to be safe and have fun, but think first.”

Accident Scene

SADD staged a two-vehicle accident with the help of Coffey County Fire District No. 1, Coffey County Sheriff’s Office, Kansas Highway Patrol, Coffey County Emergency Medical Services, Burlington Police Department, Coffey County Hospital and Life Team.

The scene of the car crash was supposed to be at a T-intersection at U.S. 75 and K-58 Hwy. where an intoxicated driver ran a stop sign at the intersection and hit a vehicle with four high school students. One student was ejected and died while waiting for help to arrive. Another student was airlifted by Life Team air ambulance and the other students were taken by ambulance to Coffey County Hospital.

The events following the crash occurred in real time, including interaction with 911 dispatchers from the time friends following in another vehicle called 911 until the victims were removed from the tragic scene.

Jeremy Lind, a school resource officer with the Coffey County Sheriff’s Office, narrated the activities. He described the actions of emergency responders, the extent of each victim’s injuries and how they will be affected by their injuries in the short term and the rest of their lives.

Law enforcement officers arrived to protect the accident scene while firefighters used “Jaws of Life” to remove the door and roof of the car and safely remove victims from inside the car. Life Team air ambulances landed at the scene to airlift a victim to a Topeka hospital.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster

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