Shock Trauma tours give teens a sobering look at effects of driving drunk


Doug met Emily yesterday, a meeting that is firmly impressed in Doug's mind, even though Emily knows nothing about it.

Emily is 20 years old, a patient at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Comatose, with broken ribs, a broken shoulder and two broken legs, her prognosis is poor. Six weeks ago she was hit by a drunk driver as she changed a flat tire.

Doug is 17, a healthy, athletic senior at Towson High School. A few months ago, after a day of drinking, he skidded off the road in the car he was driving and tumbled down a hill, flipping over four or five times. Miraculously, he escaped with minor injuries.

Along with six other teen-agers, Doug toured Shock Trauma yesterday. His participation was ordered by a Baltimore County court, part of the county's Adolescent Alcohol Intervention Program. (The names of the teen-agers and the patients in this story have been changed.)

"You guys are out there every weekend, seeing it before it happens," Debbie Yohn, a Shock Trauma nurse who helps conduct the tours, told the seven teen-agers, who were obviously sobered by their walk through the facility. "We're here, cutting your clothes off, suturing you up, dealing with the aftermath."

And Ms. Yohn had a particularly personal message to share with yesterday's tour group.

"Look at little Jennifer Jones," Ms. Yohn said. "She had two chances. She's not going to have a third."

The lives of Jennifer Jones and Debbie Yohn intersected three months ago. Ms. Jones, 18, had been a Shock Trauma patient briefly, after suffering injuries as a passenger in a car that struck and killed Ms. Yohn's 3-year-old cousin as he was playing in the yard of his Reisterstown home.

After her recovery, Ms. Jones said she wanted to become part of the Shock Trauma team -- which often includes patients and recovered patients -- to help show young people how horrible the results of drug- and alcohol-related driving can be.

But Jennifer Jones won't get the chance.

Sunday night, Ms. Jones was one of three young people who were killed when a car crashed head-on into a tree in western Baltimore County. According to police, alcohol was a factor in the accident.

The teens who toured Shock Trauma yesterday morning were all well aware of the accident. And even without it, they encounter frequent reminders of what a deadly mix drinking or drugs and driving can be.

For example, Alan, a 16-year-old recovering drug user, has a friend who was hit by a drunk driver. Kevin, a 17-year-old high school senior who has been charged with driving while intoxicated, told of a classmate who was killed in an auto accident. And everyone nodded with recognition at the words of John, a 23-year-old Shock Trauma patient who is recovering from multiple injuries suffered in an alcohol-related accident.

"By the time you get in your 20s, it's amazing how many people you hear about who kill or abuse themselves with drugs or alcohol," John told the group from his hospital bed.

A motorcyclist who rode without a helmet lies in a coma in another bed. Nearby, a young mother who was bicycling with her 3-year-old -- both of them wearing helmets -- has a broken leg in a fearful-looking metal contraption and other injuries after being struck by a drunk driver.

"These patients all thought it could never happen to them," Ms. Yohn tells the group. "But this is real. It's so real."

About 1,000 teen-agers have taken the Shock Trauma tour since the program began more than 10 years ago. Funded by a $20,000 per year state grant and administered by the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse, it has included young people from Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Carroll counties.

"No city kids are involved in this program," said Beverly Dearing, the Shock Trauma nurse who coordinates the tours. "My feeling is that we would have to have a different orientation for city teen-agers. The kids from the city that we see at Shock Trauma are more likely to be here for gunshot and stabbing wounds than auto accidents."

Tour participants fill in several questionnaires: one before they take the tour, one just after, then three months, six months and a year later. The evaluations have shown "it has a great impact," Ms. Dearing said.

For example, 20 percent of those filling in the questionnaire before their tour said if they had been drinking they would get someone else to drive for them. Immediately after the tour, that number rose to 42 percent, and it stayed near that level for the following year.

But what respondents say in a questionnaire and how they live their lives might not be the same thing. The teen-agers on yesterday's tour said it would affect their lives -- somewhat. "Thinking right now about what I saw, I sure hope it changes things," Doug said. "I'll wear a seat belt for the next week or so, probably."

"It will change my life a little," Kevin guessed. "But getting involved with the law -- that's what really changes your life."

And Doug added the high school sensibility about the concept of a designated driver, which is supposed to mean that the person who will be doing the driving refrains from drinking.

"I'll tell you what designated driver means," he said. "It means the person who drank the least."

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