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Panel missed key ingredient: a young person

A forum held at North Harrison High School a few weeks ago brought up a topic many people don’t care to think about, especially teenagers who think they have an infinite amount of time left on this earth. Everyone drinks; it’s no big deal. And, truthfully, that’s the case most of the time.
I fell into that category as well, never considering what effect alcohol would have on my brain, what might happen to me if I over-drank or who might be around to see my compromised state. It was fun. Plain and simple. Until a few days before Thanksgiving 2006.
My brother, Matt, who was 18, was in a car crash. He was drunk. He had driven off the road and flipped his truck two or three times and had somehow been ejected. He was lying face down in a puddle of mud when a passerby happened to notice headlights in a field.
His lungs were crushed, he had many visibly broken bones, including several vertebrae in his spine which were fractured, and he was still so intoxicated upon arrival to the hospital in Owensboro, Ky., he fought the anesthesia and had to be tied down.
It was a battle for his life for three months, in and out of operating rooms and a near-constant medically-induced coma. When he finally did wake up, he was unable to talk or communicate with us for a very long time because he was on a ventilator, unable to breathe on his own.
Finally, he was released to come home from the rehabilitation center, Cardinal Hill, in Lexington, Ky., Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. That was just over a year ago.
What could have saved my brother ‘ and my parents ‘ the pain and suffering? I’m not sure anything could, but I know that an open dialogue couldn’t have hurt.
The forum at North Harrison and the people there only wanted to presumably open those lines of communication and get teenagers thinking. But I feel like they missed an opportunity. Having Anthony Coffman, a recovering alcoholic and former drug abuser, as a panelist was the only thing that saved this forum from being an abstract presentation of drinking and its ills. Coffman was there to physically show the students the effects of hard living, but he was far older than his target audience, a grandfather even. Where was the one person on their level? A person to whom they could relate?
I sat in the audience and listened to the high schoolers around me giggle and snicker at certain topics, and then talk about how much they, themselves, were drinking regularly and where. I almost can’t blame them, as I’d hate to be talked down to, as well. I know the logical side of presenting information, and hoping their own logic would let them understand why drinking is harmful. But from their perspectives and their own experiences, they know that drinking doesn’t automatically mean dying, brain damage, and a life of despair and addiction. Because it doesn’t always mean that.
This is a great time to bring up a topic that hits so closely to home with so many people, especially with graduations being right around the corner, and the forum at North Harrison had great intentions and should be rotated among the high schools in the county. It’s my hope that the organizers continue this and make it a tradition that keeps going. However, I think no one on the panel should feel afraid or nervous to speak the truth about alcohol. Presenting a visual, someone the audience’s own age who has been there and seen what could happen, would only help to reinforce the danger of drinking.

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