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Patient Stories (From Dayton Daily News: November 4, 2004)

Dr. Ekeh’s Drive ALIVE Stories

Dr. A. Peter Ekeh cannot forget the faces of three badly injured high school students who were rushed to Miami Valley Hospital and later died.

One, a 17-year-old girl, suffered a severe brain injury in a crash. She became a multiple organ donor.

“Weekly, I see tragic crashes involving teens and young adults due to inexperience, speed and alcohol and drugs,” said Dr. Ekeh, medical director for the Injury Prevention Center of Greater Dayton.

Dr. Ekeh has become a driving force behind Drive Alive, a program that tries to get young drivers, who have had run-ins with the law, to act responsibly behind the wheel.

The 18-month-old collaboration between the medical, judicial, and law enforcements arenas has taken on new significance; more than 15 high school students have died on Miami Valley roads so far in 2008.

Most recently, two Marion Local High School juniors died after a car skidded off wet pavement into a utility pole in Auglaize County. Driver David Gerlach, 16, was pronounced dead. His passenger, Corey Albers, 17, died at a St. Mary’s hospital. Lt. Daniel Lay of the Wapakoneta post of the Ohio Highway Patrol said speed appeared to be a factor in the crash.

The deaths came less than six weeks after Marion Local student Renee Homan, 14, died after the pickup she was driving in Mercer County overcorrected, veered off the road, hit a ditch and flipped. Two passengers, also 14, were injured.

“Lots of times young people tend to think it won’t happen to them,” Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey said. “Certainly in Mercer and Auglaize counties this year we’ve found it can and does happen.”

Investigators said they are seeing more crashes with teenagers where loss of control—and often speed—kills.

Dr. Ekeh believes Drive Alive, sponsored by the Injury Prevention Center and Montgomery County Juvenile Court, is making a difference.

The center, based at Wright State University, is funded by Miami Valley and Good Samaritan hospitals. Volunteers from both hospitals, as well as Children’s Medical Center, participate in the Drive Alive program.

Already 110 teens have gone through the quarterly program including many who were referred by juvenile court judges or magistrates.

Judge Nick Kuntz called it “kind of a scared straight” approach to show teens the trauma that can result from serious accidents.

“Generally, these are pretty good kids, not hard-core delinquents, just with that attitude that ‘nothing can happen to me,’” Kuntz said. This program “seems to get their attention.”

The sessions, held four Tuesdays in October, featured videos that show tragic consequences of drinking and driving, and visits to the hospital’s CareFlight helicopter pad, trauma bay, and rehabilitation department.

The teens heard from a state trooper, a hospital chaplain, and a doctor who detailed harmful effects of alcohol and drugs.

The message got to Andrew Bosworth, 18, of Riverside, who was cited for failure to yield at a stop sign after a July crash. Another time, he was clocked going 84 mph in a 65 mph zone. He didn’t realize he had been driving that fast. “I wasn’t even paying attention,” he said.

Bosworth was moved by the story of Jeff Marconette Jr., 20, of Piqua, whose car was hit by a semi trailer Jan. 7, 2002. The student was on his lunch break at Upper Valley Joint Vocational School. The semi ran a red light and plowed into the driver’s side of Marconette’s car.

He slowly emerged from a two-month coma to life-changing injuries, which included a fractured skull. He stayed in Miami Valley Hospital for six more weeks. Nearly three years later, he walks with a cane and has delayed speech.

Marconette hasn’t missed a session since Drive Alive started, in hope of making a difference in someone’s life.

His best friend, Branden Jones, 22, of Piqua, told the teens, “A truck driver made a wrong decision. Every decision you guys make in your lives—whether it is drink that beer, to get behind that wheel, to buy that bag of weed—you need to step back and think, ‘What kind of effect is this going to have on somebody else or myself?’”

Bill Draugelis, resource planning manager of the juvenile court’s probation division, said court officials plan to track the long-term impact of the program to see if the mostly first-time offenders stay out of trouble.

“We want to see if it’s a feel-good program or a feel-good program with results making an impact in the community,” he said.