The statistics are grim. Teens between the ages of 15 and 19 have a higher chance of suffering death from injury than individuals in any other age group in Alberta.
While these numbers splash across the screen, a quiet hush falls over the auditorium as the newest group to attend the Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth (P.A.R.T.Y.) program at the Misericordia Community Hospital absorbs the sobering information.
It’s eye-opening for Mackenzie, 14, and her classmates from Laurier Heights School.
“My biggest takeaway is to always plan ahead,” Mackenzie says. “Always know the risks of what you’re going into, if you’re going into a party or a situation where there could be drugs or alcohol.”
Marcia Lee, a longtime registered nurse, oversees the program, which is funded by the Covenant Foundation and educates nearly 5,000 Grade 9 students from Edmonton and surrounding communities every year. Marcia has spent the bulk of her nursing career in the emergency department and is passionate about the P.A.R.T.Y. program’s work providing teens with the information they need to make smarter choices.
“We’ve all been young once, and I wish I had gotten this information when I was this age because what a difference it would have made in the choices that I made,” Marcia says.
While the program is saving lives, it’s also helping reduce pressure on the healthcare system, says Marcia.
“It’s a phenomenal amount of money we’re spending on hospitalization and then all the other rippling costs for people who have injury.”
Constable Rob Farbin with the Edmonton Police Service also sees the value of the program first-hand. "This is how you start changing a generation — by starting at this age,” he says.
When the program began at the Misericordia more than 25 years ago, it focused largely on alcohol prevention, but in recent years, it has expanded to include information about the risks of texting behind the wheel, as well as the dangers of using cannabis and fentanyl.
In addition to hearing from police and healthcare providers, students hear first-hand from survivors like Kiley Geddie. Kiley became quadriplegic in 2005, after the vehicle he was travelling in slammed into a semi and rolled. He was not wearing a seatbelt. Now he shares his story with Edmonton teens, and according to the students' feedback, the message he delivers from his motorized wheelchair strikes a chord.
“Over the years, I’ve talked to tens of thousands of kids, and I’m sure my speech has impacted them.”
“Injury prevention programs save lives because, let’s face it, 15 to 25 is the most fun, exciting, adventurous time in your life, but it’s also when you’re most at risk for catastrophic injury or death,” says Kiley.
Kiley says the P.A.R.T.Y. program also benefits him tremendously by giving him a voice and sense of purpose.
“Even though I might be paralyzed from the neck down, I’m actually a positive, productive member of society, and for anyone who's injured, that’s the biggest hurdle, just being able to deem that you have self-worth.”
While alcohol and drug education is often provided in Alberta classrooms, students say the opportunity to attend a full-day workshop in a hospital setting is unique and especially valuable.
“We might learn about it at school, but we wouldn’t have a perspective from a police officer, a nurse and a survivor of an accident like this,” Mackenzie says. “Hearing from all those different people was different from what we would have heard in a class setting.”
Mila, 14, says the program encouraged her to truly think about how her choices could impact everyone around her.
“Now I know the effects on other people. It’s not just about me. It includes a lot of other people — like the police officers, my family, the families that I’m impacting — so it will definitely change my decisions,” she says.
“It kind of puts it into perspective. It’s not just one drink. It’s someone’s life.”
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