Traumatic injuries are most preventable public health problem

The end of 2000 brings another holiday season. It will be joyous for many, yet devastatingly tragic for some possibly because of haphazard, traumatic causes.

Whether the cause of tragedy and devastation be secondary to drinking and driving, failing to wear seat belts, being a careless driver, not driving defensively, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, chances are someone you know will suffer a disabling injury or possibly death this holiday season. According to recent MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) statistics, during the 1999 Christmas holiday period alone, our nation suffered the loss of 479 citizens, 221 of these deaths being alcohol related. New Year's Eve brought another 147 fatalities, with 75 being alcohol related.

Some other disturbing facts:

Trauma remains the leading cause of death in people ages 1 through 44.

The fatality rate in our nation is one trauma-related death every 33 minutes.

Trauma causes about 150,000 deaths annually in this country alone.

630,000 people are injured annually in alcohol-related vehicle crashes.

30,000 suffer permanent disability.

More Americans have died in alcohol-related crashes than in all the wars the United States has been involved in since our country was founded.

Trauma-related costs exceed $400 billion annually.

The incidence of traumatic injury is epidemic in our society today. The true costs to society can be measured only when it is realized that trauma strikes down its youngest and potentially most productive citizens. All trauma-related deaths are tragic, but the loss of life in the early years is the most tragic of all.

Traumatic injuries are the most preventable public health problem today. Even with improved public awareness, there is still no guarantee of the public acceptance of responsibility. The media's attention has heightened our awareness of trauma. However, most people still maintain, "It won't happen to me." As proven by the multitude of trauma victims transported to and treated in the North Mississippi Medical Center Emergency Services Department each month, this is not only a national problem, but also a disturbing local problem.

More than half of the trauma patients treated by NMMC physicians suffer from major trauma and 36 percent of all trauma patients treated are 25 and younger. These "statistics" could very well be our children, spouses, siblings, co-workers or friends anyone who may have touched our lives. Statistics prove trauma will find most of us at some point no matter what age, sex, race or religion. Its effects are equally devastating to all.

Trauma has shown to be a travesty both physically and emotionally, as well as a huge financial burden for the patients involved and their family members who struggle alongside them. Major trauma victims do not recover overnight, if they recover at all. Many times death is imminent and immediate. If trauma victims do survive the initial event, their hospital stay usually consists of frequent surgeries, numerous days in intensive care, and often extensive rehabilitation. This could continue for months if not a lifetime.

Now that this joyous holiday season is upon us, each of us should make every effort to take control of our lives, be responsible for our actions, and protect our families from the devastation of trauma and death. We can each make three commitments to do our part in preventing such occurrences: wear seat belts, drive the speed limit doing so carefully, and don't drink alcohol and drive. These changes alone will significantly decrease the horrific statistics regarding traumatic injuries and will give each of us a greater chance of having a safe and happy holiday season.

This is the season of celebration, but please celebrate responsibly and safe. An excellent opportunity to do so is to participate in "Celebration 2001: A New Year's Odyssey," an alcohol-free and tobacco-free New Year's Eve party held annually at the Mall at Barnes Crossing. The party runs from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. in the mall's Food Court and features entertainment by The Guns and Craig Horton. Catering is provided by Vanelli's, and door prizes will be awarded. Tickets, which are available at LifeWay Christian Store and the mall information desk, are $20 in advance and $30 at the door, if available. For more information, call 842-6678. Proceeds benefit the Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi.

The employees and physicians of North Mississippi Health Services challenge each of you to be cautious and enjoy this joyous, beautiful season with your family and friends. We don't want you or your beloved to become "just" another statistic.

Joy Avery, R.N., CEN, is the Chief Flight Nurse/Trauma Coordinator with North Mississippi Medical Center's Aeromedical Services.

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