The program works because of its authenticity, he says. “Number one: getting the message right from the horse’s mouth. That’s a lot different than having your teacher tell you not to do this and not to do that.”
Elton’s life changed dramatically in 1983 while driving impaired. He failed to negotiate a turn and, not wearing his seatbelt, was launched from his vehicle. A lengthy hospital stay, a year’s worth of rehabilitation and under-employment followed.
Elton speaks to P.A.R.T.Y. students at Sunnybrook twice a week during the school year, telling them how his risky behaviour changed his life and guiding them through the hospital’s rehabilitation area. The students are inquisitive about his injury’s effect on others, he says. “They want to know how my friends took it and how my family is.”
Elton’s story and those of the other injury survivors definitely touches the youthful audience.
“I can see in the kids’ faces that they are aware of what’s going on,” he says. Elton has also received feedback from students and their parents that highlights changed behaviour among participants. “I have driven with a drunk driver. And after what I’ve seen today I’m definitely not doing that again,” is one such comment.
Sarah Ginn, an injury survivor entering her second year as a P.A.R.T.Y. speaker, also elicits a reaction from students. “They grab my hand and say, ‘It’s amazing to meet you,’” she says of youth who approach her after she speaks.
Sarah’s story is at the same time deeply tragic and incredibly inspiring. Now 30, Sarah was a friendly and vibrant young woman looking to the future when the car she was a passenger in was struck by an oncoming vehicle in January of 2003.
Although she was wearing her seatbelt, it was not working properly. Slack in the seatbelt caused it to wrap around the vehicle handle and unravel during the impact from the other car. Sarah went hurtling into the windshield, initially causing a bleed in her brain, a torn liver from the seatbelt and collapsed lungs. Sarah’s sister, Lisa, was also in the car, and was transported to Sunnybrook with broken ribs, punctured lungs and a suspected fracture of her spine.
Rushed to Sunnybrook by air, Sarah laid in a coma for six weeks with little chance of survival. But she beat the odds and woke from the coma, and then underwent 16 surgeries, countless hours of speech and cognitive rehabilitation and ongoing physical therapy. Her long-term injuries include being legally blind, being unable to taste or smell, and continuing cognitive and memory losses.
But that’s what happened – not what is happening now. Sarah recently graduated to become a registered holistic nutritionist and is excited to return to Sunnybrook as a P.A.R.T.Y. speaker. She says being able to offer guidance to youth and to give back to Sunnybrook is an “honour and a blessing.”
Sarah’s mom, Eveline, says that as much as students are shocked and saddened by what they hear, they also draw inspiration from the courageous battles waged by survivors. “Sarah has fought. It’s been a long seven years,” says Eveline, who along with her husband, David, speaks to participants about how tragedy affects parents.
The students are often much more appreciative of their parents after hearing the two speak, Eveline says. “You know you’ve touched them and you know you’ve reached them,” David adds.
A recent study, published in the March issue of the Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care, indicates that all of this messaging and vivid clinical reality is connecting with youth. The researchers found P.A.R.T.Y. participants are less likely than non-participants to suffer traumatic injuries.
“It validated that the work [behind P.A.R.T.Y.]and all the time and energy – and let me tell you, it was a lot of hard work – was in fact worth it,” Banfield says of the study. It documents, in a scientific way, the anecdotal evidence that has been building for years: P.A.R.T.Y. participants are more likely to take a pause, reconsider and avoid risky behaviour.