Alcohol victims warn teens


Marian Schimian stood next to her only son and uttered several greetings. Then she asked her son to repeat them to the eight teen-age visitors.

"Good morning," Michael Schimian said in a low, deliberate but friendly voice, as he lay on a hospital bed in the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. "And I'm feeling better everyday. Thank you for coming to visit me."

"He's fantastic," said Ms. Schimian, beaming at the visitors ages 14 to 17 who stood before her son, who is blind and suffers myriad problems resulting from a drunken driving accident last year.

Visit was court-ordered

The four male and four female teen-agers, who had received alcohol citations in Howard County, were ordered by the court to tour the trauma center to learn firsthand of drug- and alcohol-related injuries.

Standing next to nurses, the teen-agers solemnly watched the mother rub her 25-year-old son's pale and disfigured body. It was a close-up view of what happens when alcohol and driving are mixed.

As the mother and son sang "I Love You a Bushel and a Peck," the young visitors watched silently.

Since 1979, the trauma center has allowed at-risk teen-agers from Maryland to go on the two-hour tour as part of "Adolescent Trauma Prevention Programs."

Each year, more than 8,000 teen-agers are killed nationally in alcohol-related traffic accidents. Another 40,000 teen-agers are maimed, disfigured or permanently disabled, hospital officials said.

"It's like an awakening experience," said Beverly Dearing, a registered nurse who coordinates the tours, which attract about 300 Maryland youths annually. She said the recidivism rate among participants who tour the facility is about 1 percent.

Tours part of program

Nearly two years ago, the Howard County Addictions Center, which receives a grant from the Maryland Department of Transportation, began a program in the county to take 12 to 15 juveniles to tour the Maryland Shock Trauma Center each month.

The county's addictions center, juvenile services and the Police Department can refer teen-agers charged with alcohol-related offenses to complete the tour.

Before last week's tour, the youths gathered in a small room at the hospital and filled out pre-evaluation questionnaires on drugs. They then watched videotapes from "Rescue 911" about a local teen-ager who almost died while driving drunk.

"Your age group, you tend to feel 'Nothing will ever happen to me,' " said nurse Lisa Lyons. "Whatever you do, remember it can happen to you. It really can."

One boy's close call

She recalled an incident involving a 14-year-old boy who was under the influence of alcohol while playing with friends on a trampoline. The boy fell unconscious and was dragged by his friends to a field. The boy survived.

In the admitting area at Shock Trauma, nurse Sharon Kerr explained to the youths that when trauma victims arrive they are placed on hard board stretchers as a team of medical experts works quickly to save lives by cutting clothes and securing body parts.

The emergency actions are very impersonal and uncomfortable, she said.

"It's not a good feeling," said Ms. Kerr, wearing her blue hospital "scrub" clothing. "You don't want this experience -- trust me."

The youths visited Michael, a bed-ridden, 31-year-old man who described himself as an alcoholic who drank the night before he was admitted to the hospital. He couldn't remember if he was hospitalized after passing out or being assaulted.

"It looked like someone clocked me," he said. His right eye was swollen shut and discolored.

"I volunteered to talk to you guys because I don't want to see any of you go through what I went through," he said.

As he talked, he displayed his elbows, which were scratched and bruised -- and he was unable to tell how they got that way.

The teen-agers then met Shaun, 20, who collapsed in Ocean City on Memorial Day. He was diagnosed with alcohol intoxication. His blood-alcohol content was a near-lethal .40.

"I think I'm a pretty lucky dude," he said.

A terrible moment in 1993

But Michael Schimian, the blind Ellicott City man injured in an alcohol-related car crash, was not so lucky.

Under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, his life changed forever on March 10, 1993. His mother keeps track of how long ago the incident occurred: "450 days ago today," Ms. Schimian said.

"He failed to negotiate a turn on Old Court Road [in Baltimore County] and went through a picket fence and hit . . . a telephone pole," his mother said. "Pieces of the fence went through the windshield and between his eyes. That exploded his skull."

The 1986 Mount Hebron High School graduate's face was crushed.

"There was not an inch of bone in his face that wasn't destroyed," Ms. Schimian said. "His eyes were buried in what used to be a sinus cavity."

Among his injuries, the once-comatose man suffered a broken neck, paralyzed vocal cords, and lost his memory and ability to eat. His insurance-covered hospital bills came to about $650,000, his mother said.

"I was told two people in seven years [at Shock Trauma] had survived Michael's injuries," Ms. Schimian said. "They gave me no hope. I said Michael will be No. 3."

Mr. Schimian, a former carpenter, spent seven months in the hospital before he was discharged in October. Although he can walk and talk now, he was readmitted last month for recurring problems.

The lessons hit home

Jessica, 14, one of the youths on the tour, received an alcohol citation in March. She said that the tour was eye-opening and Mr. Schimian's experiences touched her the most "because he was the worst one."

"I won't drink and drive," she said.

"It makes you think twice before you get a can of beer and drive off," said Steve, 16.

Ms. Schimian allowed the visitors to see her son because she hopes to spare lives. She also visits schools to tell her son's story. She always makes a prediction.

"I say, 'When I come back next year, some of you will not be here or will pay the ultimate price, as my son has.' "

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