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Mount Doug students get reality check on dangerous behaviour during tour of morgue

Sep 14 2012
Grade 11 Mount Douglas students in the morgue of Victoria General Hospital with former community coroner Maureen Wint. 

Grade 11 Mount Douglas students in the morgue of Victoria General Hospital with former community coroner Maureen Wint.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , timescolonist.com (September 2012)

Former community coroner Maureen Wint heaves open the stainless steel door of a body vault in the morgue of Victoria General Hospital and slides out an empty metal stretcher.

“This is the final destination,” she tells a silent and sombre group of Mount Douglas High School students getting a reality check on risky behaviours, especially those involving driving.

“If you make a bad decision and the consequence of the bad decision is your being dead, this is where you end up.”

There is no eye contact, joking or shoving or giggling among the students. They look apprehensive.

Wint tells them this is where their body bag would go, feet facing out, if they died in Emergency following a car accident involving drinking and driving or other risky behaviour. Five or six of the 14 vaults are locked, with bodies inside.

Keep your own identification on you, she advises the students, so police don’t end up telling the wrong parents that their son or daughter is dead. Or paralyzed or brain-damaged.

It’s heavy stuff.

Peter Elwood, 16, describes his reaction as “really heated.” He was especially unnerved by the dangers of texting and walking, which he acknowledges doing.

The students rotated through five stations that dealt with real or simulated car-crash scenarios — all part of a prevention program called PARTY: Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth. It launched its first weekly session of the school year Thursday.

All Island Grade 10 students attend — 4,800 last year, says registered nurse Louise Gill, who works half-time in the ER and the other half with PARTY.

Car crashes are the “No. 1 killer of youth aged 13 to 25 in B.C.,” according to PARTY.

Students also met people with brain injuries caused by accidents that could have been prevented. Sandy Richards was 26 when he was hit by a speeding, drunk teenager at Cook and North Park streets in 1994. It left him in a coma for 108 days, in hospital for eight months, his right side no longer “plugged in” and “brain damaged forever.” He told the students they had no right to do to anyone what that teen did to him.

Karen Kanoga, 16, found it eye-opening to meet people affected by risk-taking drivers. “Especially the brain trauma victims. I just felt for them because they seem like such nice people.”

Elwood added: “Especially when it wasn’t their fault.”

Doctors, nurses, paramedics, police and trauma survivors made for serious show and tell. But the program is about promoting safe and informed choices, not lecturing them about what not to do.

“If you’re in the car with someone, you’d better trust them with your life,” Wint says, noting that passengers are three times more likely to pay the price in crashes than are drivers.

“It’s a very heavy energy for the students as they reflect on their own decisions,” says teacher Sue Phillips, mother of three teens.

She has taken students to the PARTY for more than a decade and still gets overwhelmed. She’s convinced it helps students make smart choices, which is a good thing, because she says one in five new drivers will be in an accident within two years of being licensed.

The B.C. Legion Foundation donated $2,000 to the program — the first donation PARTY has had this year, even though it depends on community support. To keep it in operation, high schools contribute $2 per student who attends.

Student Emery Whitney says she found the half-day session “very valuable — I have seen things that I have never seen before. I thought I had a strong stomach. I thought I was going to be one of those people who handle it, but I got very emotional.”

Will it affect her decision making about risk-taking and the road? “Of course.” If she encountered someone not sober behind the wheel, she says she would do “whatever it takes” to get them out of the vehicle.

Gill thinks PARTY is making a difference. “As an ER nurse, I definitely see a decrease in young people presenting to ER as a result of poor decision-making.”

For more information, call 250-727-4534, or email louise.gill@viha.ca or christopher.morrow@viha.ca

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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