How do you get invincible teens who don,t bat an eye at blood and guts to recognize the potential consequences of their risky behaviour?
You throw them a P.A.R.T.Y.
And for some teens, the effects of Sunnybrook P.A.R.T.Y. show: their legs weaken, they go flush and they pass out.
But it’s not your typical teenage party. This P.A.R.T.Y. – Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth – uses a unique blend of engaging speakers including injury survivors, emergency response workers and health-care professionals, plus visits to Sunnybrook’s trauma room and Critical Care Unit, to help teens recognize their injury risks and make smart decisions to reduce them.
Of course, making kids faint isn’t the point. But if their physical reactions are any indication, Sunnybrook’s P.A.R.T.Y. Program is getting through to them.
“It is a very powerful way to communicate the importance of making informed choices,” says Joanne Banfield, manager of trauma injury prevention within the Sunnybrook RBC First Office for Injury Prevention, which encompasses P.A.R.T.Y.
Indeed, over the two-plus decades the program has been running, Banfield says many students have said their visit to Sunnybrook was their most memorable high school trip. “P.A.R.T.Y. stands out. It’s one they never forget,” she says.
Irene Petrou, a teacher at Milliken Mills High School in Markham and a past P.A.R.T.Y. attendee herself, is introducing her students to the program.
“It's crucial that we expose them to the realities of everyday living,” she says. “Students tend to have an immortality complex and believe nothing ‘bad’ will happen to them, so this is a hands-on experience.”
The program is a reality check for youth, adds Toronto Police Service constable Keith Ingram, who has been a P.A.R.T.Y. speaker for more than two years. Vehicles are the most common sites for teenager deaths in the developed world, he says, adding that the most risky driving behaviours include speeding, impaired driving, cellphones and other distractions, and not wearing seatbelts.
P.A.R.T.Y. veteran speaker Geoff MacBride, a Toronto paramedic, discusses different injuries and their consequences with students. “It’s really a no-holds-barred approach. There is some pretty graphic stuff,” he says, noting that he gets students to lie down on a backboard and places a neck brace on them for added effect.
From its humble beginnings at Sunnybrook in 1986, P.A.R.T.Y. has spread across Canada and has gone international, with programs set up in the United States, Japan, Brazil, Australia and Germany. Sunnybrook remains the program’s national headquarters.
Some of these international seeds, Banfield notes, were planted after doctors from afar encountered the program first-hand while working at Sunnybrook’s Tory Regional Trauma Centre. Impressed with what they saw, the doctors have taken the initiative to bring P.A.R.T.Y. back to their home countries. Banfield’s speaking engagements at international conferences have also been important to this global expansion.
So what is a typical day for P.A.R.T.Y. participants? Through the eyes of paramedics, police, nurses, physicians, social workers, coroners and injury survivors – some in acute care, others in rehab or back home – they learn the details of what really happens during, immediately following and in the years after an injury.
The team also helps students understand the effects alcohol and drugs have on decision making, judgment, concentration and coordination, and the terrible consequences that can result. The kids gain perspective on exactly how incidents impact the body, especially the brain and spine. The program concludes by challenging teens to individually and collectively commit to promoting behaviours that minimize the risk of injury.
Sunnybrook created the program both at the request of teens and with their input, Banfield emphasizes. “It was important to ensure the messaging was directed with teens in mind.” It was equally necessary that a realistic setting – what she calls “vivid clinical reality” – was at the heart of P.A.R.T.Y. “We don’t sugar-coat things,” she says.
“I wish that when I was a kid I had this,” says 61-year-old Elton Horner, a quadriplegic who has been sharing his story with P.A.R.T.Y. teens since 1988.