Spinal Cord Injuries Happen
In 1990, I was at the height of my career as a professional race car driver. Then, on a test run in England, an accident — a freak one by racing standards –left me paralyzed with a devastating spinal cord injury.
Initially, there was concern if I would even survive my injuries at all. I careened from one medical crisis to another, taking my family and loved ones along on that same wrenching, emotional roller-coaster ride. Then, when the imminent dangers had passed, I arrived at the forefront of living life in the wake of a paralyzing spinal cord injury.
Ironically, less than six months earlier I had chosen The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis as my personal charity, and I had already begun assisting them in raising funding for spinal cord injury research. I clearly recall personally placing their logos on my race car, never then dreaming that within a few short months my future would be in their hands.
A number of years have passed since the fateful day that I was paralyzed. In that time, my compassion for victims of spinal cord injuries, and respect for the families and friends of those standing behind them has grown immeasurably. I have learned that hope, encouragement and determination aided by education, are among the keys in creating a meaningful, satisfying life despite physical obstacles.
I am lucky. I have a wonderful family and an amazing collection of friends and business associates who share my commitment to build a better future for those with spinal cord injuries and other central nervous system disorders. Significantly, there has never been a time of more important and promising research to find a cure for spinal cord paralysis then right now.
The Darrell Gwynn Foundation (DGF) was created to help aid that critical research by raising funds for that purpose. In addition to supporting various worthwhile research initiatives, DGF concerns itself with Quality of Life issues for those with spinal cord injuries.
My life, both before and after my spinal cord injury, has surrounded professional auto racing. Surprisingly, there are similarities between side-by-side competition at more than 300 miles-per-hour, and the quest to cure spinal cord injuries. Both are expensive. Both are ultimately competitions against the clock. And with adequate funding, technical expertise and dedication, both can be won.
There’s an old saying in auto racing, “It’s not where you start, but where you finish.” That’s also true of living life with a spinal cord injury. The race to find a cure for paralysis from spinal cord injury is well underway. With continuing help, I am certain that race will one day be won.
Florida Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week
ABOUT THE DARRELL GWYNN FOUNDATION
The Darrell Gwynn Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, exists to prevent, provide for and ultimately cure spinal cord injuries and other debilitating illnesses. To expedite specific cures, the Foundation assists in the funding of targeted research. The Foundation is also dedicated to injury prevention, with special emphasis on programs targeting children.
The Foundation helps improve the quality of life for those already afflicted with injury or illness, by providing necessary equipment or special services.
The Darrell Gwynn Foundation is spearheading the 3rd Annual Florida Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week. A state resolution, sponsored by Sen. Nan Rich (D) and Rep. Rene Garcia (R), was passed by the Florida Legislature earlier this year designating the week of November 10-16 2008 for this campaign. This resolution charges DGF with educating Floridians, especially children, on ways they can prevent spinal cord injuries. It is our hope that one day this will become a nationally dedicated week.
As high school age children make up a key demographic for sustaining spinal cord injuries, DGF is dedicated to arming students with information on ways to prevent spinal cord injuries. Florida is a very active state, with year-round swimming, boating and other types of outdoor recreational activities which high school age students participate in. In addition, high school students are new drivers and automobile accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries; our prevention program seeks to promote safe driving practices. Through this innovative program, it is our goal to reduce the number of spinal cord injury accidents in high school age students in Florida.
While our first priority is targeting children, DGF will also provide safety and education tips to all ages. During this week, DGF and the Florida Department of Health will run public service announcements on major TV and cable networks, featuring NASCAR drivers Tony Stewart that will provide prevention and safety tips. We will hold events at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. A major publicity push is planned, particularly high-lighting the education program. It is our goal to invite local reporters to attend the in-school presentations. In addition to the educational part of spinal cord injury awareness week, we are planning on giving away a wheelchair every single day during this very important week.
THE EDUCATION PROGRAM
DGF has developed a prevention program for high schools throughout the state of Florida. Through our partnerships with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and the Florida Spinal Cord Injury Resource Center, we have assembled a roster of speakers that are either quadriplegics or paraplegics, thereby having experiential knowledge about spinal cord injuries. In 2008, these speakers will visit schools in Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Lee, Duval, Marion, Palm Beach and Hillsborough Counties. In year’s past all presentations received excellent responses from both teachers and students. Many were presented in large auditoriums to hundreds of students who had been combined from HOSA and Driver’s Ed classes.
All speakers have been trained by The Darrell Gwynn Foundation and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. Each speaker presents the same material, with the only exception being their personal stories about how their spinal cord injuries were sustained.
The agenda for the program is as follows:
- Show an approximately 12-minute video courtesy of the ThinkFirst Foundation. This video consists of personal stories shared by young adults who suffered spinal cord injuries as teenagers, due to reckless behaviors. Last year, it made a big impact with the students who viewed it.
- Speaker’s personal story about his or her accident, what life is like with a spinal cord injury, how it could have been prevented, their daily routine—with a spinal cord injury—consists of, challenges, etc.
- Prevention tips on spinal cord injuries that are particularly relevant to this age group. For example, the tips will include, but will not be limited to
o Practice safe diving habits. “Look before you leap” and avoid diving head first into shallow water. Entering feet first is safer than diving.
This includes the beach…avoid jumping head first into waves, off piers, rocks, jetties, or surfboards.
o Backpack Safety: Don’t overload your backpack and make sure you use both straps to carry it.
o Insist on spotters when performing activities that can put you at risk such as new gymnastics moves or cheerleading stunts.
o DUI Facts: 33% of 12th graders rode one or more times in a car or other vehicle (including ATV’s) driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol. Among teen drivers who were killed in motor vehicle accidents after drinking and driving, 74% were unrestrained. Car accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries.
- A question and answer session with students
- Distribute a DOE-approved full-color paralysis prevention & safety tips tri-fold brochure which will include tips such as the ones previously listed, as well as many more. All the tips will concentrate on activities relevant to this age group in the areas of driving, swimming, sports and firearms, plus statistics and facts.
The program will be no more than 50 minutes in length. It is our goal to reach as many students as possible, so we hope that arrangements can be made to bring multiple classes together for each presentation.
To learn more about Darrell Gwynn and his Foundation log onto www.darrellgwynnfoundation.org
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