One choice changed my life forever

“If what I say could help save even one person’s life, it would mean everything to me”, said Cody Johnson.

Cody is referring to secondary school students who participate in Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth (P.A.R.T.Y.) Program.

Each year, the P.A.R.T.Y. Program hosts more than 80 sessions at 11 sites across the Island Health region, educating approximately 4,000 students about what can happen as the result of impaired or distracted driving, speeding, drug and alcohol use and not wearing a seat belt or bike helmet.

The P.A.R.T.Y. Program is all about awareness, prevention and learning from real people. A team of volunteers — BC Ambulance Service, hospital staff, doctors, nurses, RCMP, injury prevention specialists and injury survivors, like Cody — use the reality of trauma to promote injury prevention and help young people to make good decisions and practice safe behaviours.

P.A.R.T.Y. can be emotional and even scary for the students. The teens follow a (virtual) crash victim from an accident scene to the hospital ER, and also the morgue. Health care professionals, who dedicate their lives saving others, talk about the heart-breaking results of physical trauma on young victims and their families. Cody, a real-life survivor, then shares his own story of traumatic injury, and how the experience changed his life forever.

Cody, was a skateboarder and snowboarder, who loved to fish and hang out with friends and family. He grew up in Victoria and later moved to Saskatchewan for work.

On September 15, 2013, he and five good friends, all of them just 24 years old, spent the day fishing, drinking and doing drugs.

“We worked hard and we partied hard,” says Cody.

At the end of the day, six of them piled into a truck for the drive home. Four of them, including Cody, didn’t use seat belts. The driver, as impaired as his passengers, became distracted over an argument about which radio station to listen to and hit the ditch.

“I was lucky,” says Cody, who suffered a devastating diffuse axonal brain injury in the crash. He was ejected from the vehicle into a barbed wire fence that saved his life by preventing him from drowning in a nearby pond.

“Three of my friends, who weren’t wearing seatbelts, either, don’t get a second chance like I did,” adds Cody, showing the students the tattoos covering his arms that memorialize his friends. “They died that day.”

The young people watch and listen to a presentation by Cody, aptly titled, “The Power of Choice” that includes photos his life before the accident, his friends and his progress through a long three year recovery.

“One choice changed my life forever,” says Cody. “Three weeks on life support, in the hospital for a total of six months and two and half years in a rehabilitation home. I had to relearn everything. Walking, talking, feeding myself. It was like I was three years old. I had to learn to live my life again. It wasn’t fun. It was so hard but I was lucky.”

“The choices I made, that lifestyle, was the old me. Now, health is really important to me. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. Every morning when I wake up, I can see clearly,” he adds.

Cody was introduced to the P.A.R.T.Y. Program at Bill’s Place in Nanaimo where he lives. Bill’s Place is a group of skilled and committed professionals who provide housing and personalized support to individuals whose lives have been impacted by acquired brain injury and trauma.

His role as injury survivor volunteer with P.A.R.T.Y. gives Cody the opportunity to help young people be aware of what is safe, take personal responsibility and make smart choices.

“When I give a presentation to students, I speak from my heart,” says Cody about his volunteer work and sharing his very personal story. “I feel like I have to warn others, help them understand that they can make safe choices.”

There is proof that the P.A.R.T.Y. Program message and stories like Cody’s really hit home. In 2009, an Island Health research study found that P.A.R.T.Y. graduates have a significantly higher compliance with safe behaviours than non-P.A.R.T.Y. students, with the greatest impact on reduced use of cell phones while driving, driving after midnight, and speeding.

For more information and a list of P.A.R.T.Y.’s community sponsors and program partners, visit P.A.R.T.Y.

Media Contacts:

Valerie Wilson
Director, Communications and Engagement