The statistics are grim. As the numbers splash across the screen, a quiet hush falls over the auditorium as the newest group to attend Covenant Health’s P.A.R.T.Y. (Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth) Program absorbs the sobering information.
The Alberta Injury Prevention Centre reports that based on the most recent data from Alberta Vital Statistics, teens between the ages of 15 and 19 have the highest chance of suffering death from injury than individuals in any other age group in Alberta.
It’s eye-opening information for 14-year-old Mackenzie 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 that educates nearly 5,000 Grade 9 students from Edmonton and surrounding communities every year. Lee 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, healthier decisions.
“We’ve all been young once and I know that 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,” Lee says.
The P.A.R.T.Y. program includes presentations on the risks of brain and spinal cord injury. Here, Mila (left) and Mackenzie (right) are examining a model that shows how fragile the human skull is.
Key to the program's success is the financial support it receives from Covenant Foundation donors. Since 2015, the Foundation has committed more than $70,000 toward the P.A.R.T.Y. Program at the Misericordia Community Hospital.
"Covenant Foundation donors have made it possible for us to triple the size of this program in the last five years," Lee says.
The program is saving lives but Lee says it's also beneficial in helping reduce pressure on the health care system.
"It's a phenomenal amount of money we're spending on hospitalization and then all the other rippling costs for people who have injury," Lee explains.
"If a donation can prevent just one student from making a choice out there that isn't a smart choice and ending up needing critical care and maybe long term care, it's worth it."
"This is a very worthwhile program to invest in,” stresses Constable Rob Farbin with the Edmonton Police Service. “Your dollars are going to go to help kids make positive decisions. And this is how you start changing a generation — by starting at this age.”
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 around the risks of texting behind the wheel; as well as the dangers of cannabis and fentanyl.
In addition to hearing from police and health care providers, students hear firsthand from survivors, like Kiley Geddie. Geddie became quadriplegic in 2005, after the vehicle he was travelling in slammed into a semi and rolled. Geddie was not wearing his seatbelt. Now he shares his story with Edmonton teens and according to feedback collected from students, the message he delivers from his motorized wheelchair strikes a chord with his young audience.
“Over the years I’ve talked to tens of thousands of kids and I’m sure by doing my speech, it’s impacted them.”
“Injury-prevention programs - they save lives. “Geddie says, “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.”
Geddie says the P.A.R.T.Y. program also has tremendous benefits for him, by giving him a “voice” and sense of purpose.
Kiley Geddie encourages Edmonton students to make thoughtful, positive choices behind the wheel. Geddie suffered a lifechanging spinal cord injury after a collision in 2005. He was not wearing a seatbelt.
"Even though I might be paralyzed from the neck down, I'm actually being a positive, productive member of society and for anyone that's injured, that's the biggest hurdle. Just being able to deem that you have self worth."
While alcohol and drug education are often provided in Alberta classrooms, students say the opportunity to attend a full-day workshop in a hospital setting is a unique opportunity that is especially valuable.
"We might learn about it at school but we wouldn't have a perspective from a police officer and a nurse and a survivor of an accident like this," Mackenzie says.
"Hearing from all those different people was different than what we would hear in a class setting."
Fourteen-year-old Mila says the program encouraged her to truly think about how her choices can 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 yeah, it will definitely change my decisions."
"It kind of puts it into perspective. It's not just one drink. It's someone's life."
If you would like to support the P.A.R.T.Y. program, please make a secure online donation here or call 780-342-8126.