Lying under the bright lights of the pediatric trauma room at Victoria General Hospital, Jamie is covered in blood.
His head and arms are bandaged, he has fractured ribs, and he’s wearing a neck brace. His left leg has been carefully splinted, but a piece of bone protrudes from his skin. Bloody gauze and gloves litter the clean white floor.
The 17-year-old had a few drinks and smoked some pot at a party, and offered to give his friend a ride home. Driving along Sooke Road, Jamie lost control and hit the median, causing the car to flip. Another driver saw the crash and called 911.
Now he’s unconscious and a ventilator is helping him breathe. His friend died in the crash.
This all too real scenario is part of Island Health’s Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth (PARTY) program.
Offered to Grade 10 students at public and prviate high schools across Greater Victoria, including Victoria and Esquimalt high schools, the program educates students about what can happen as a result of impaired or distracted driving, speeding, drug and alcohol use, or not wearing a seat belt or bike helmet.
“We don’t tell them (students) never drink, never do drugs, never drive fast. It’s just think about it before you do it. Have a ride home, wear your seat belt,” said Julie Malone, administrative assistant, trauma services with Island Health.
“Someone just standing up and talking to them, I don’t think (the message) would really get through. It’s much more effective to show them rather than just tell them.”
On average, 32 youth between the ages of 16 to 21 are killed in crashes every year in B.C., four of whom lose their lives on Vancouver Island.
During graduation in April, May and June, an average of six youth die in B.C. Statistics show 24 per cent of speeding drivers, 16 per cent of impaired drivers and 15 per cent of distracted drivers were between the ages of 16 and 21.
As part of the reality-based injury prevention program, students follow a victim’s path from the crash scene to the morgue. Moving through the handful of stations, presentations come from emergency room physicians, B.C. Ambulance paramedics, RCMP or police, many of whom share personal stories of real crash scenes. Brain injury surviviors also tell their stories.
Ann Doll, trauma coordinator and program volunteer, said it isn’t about scaring students, but teaching them to make smart decisions.
She believes the program has made a difference. Two girls, who had recently participated in the program, were at a party when a friend who had been drinking wanted to drive home. The girls insisted he not get behind the wheel and instead called his parents to pick him up.
“The message is it’s all about choice,” Doll said. “We make choices every day of our life … what you can’t determine is the outcome of your choices. So if you choose to drink and drive or drive under the influence of drugs, you may get into a crash and you won’t be able to determine the outcome.”
Lena Solbakken, a Grade 11 Spectrum High student, said it made her a bit uneasy to see Jamie bandaged in the ER, but it helped drive home the message.
Roughly 1,700 students in Greater Victoria go through the program annually. PARTY has been offered in Victoria since 2003, and is part of an international program which started in Toronto in 1986 and has since expanded to Australia, Brazil, Japan and the U.S.