Our driver’s education classes at Lift For Life Academy are some of the last in the area to be taught, especially free of charge. As part of our dedication to ensuring the safety of our students as teenage drivers, Think First Missouri, an injury prevention program  came to speak to our students.
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Before leaving on spring break, our high school students got the opportunity to be inspired and educated by Think First Missouri. They listened as Penny Lorenz spoke about her life and the accident that changed it all. At 17, she was thrown through the windshield of her friend’s car, broke her back in 3 places and was paralyzed instantly. As she talks, a cheerleading picture from her junior year is displayed behind her, and it’s impossible to ignore the chair she’s now confined to.

Penny began by talking about spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries in a matter-of-fact way. She outlined what happens to a brain when it is jolted inside a person’s skull. She explained the anatomy of a spinal cord injury. But it wasn’t until she began to speak about her personal experience and that of others that she works with that the weight of what she is talking about sinks in. You can tell it’s hitting the students as well. They settle down and barely move as she speaks.

She’s outlining the instant that a life changes. Permanently. She talks about Keller, an 18 year old boy who spent 15 days in a coma and had to relearn to walk after flipping his truck 12 times. Two of his friends died in the accident. They had all been drinking.

She talks about Warren who hitched a ride home from work with a co-worker and spent three months in a coma. He hasn’t spoken a word in 17 years and is completely dependent on his mother for care.

When Penny is finished, she introduces her counterpart for this particular talk. Chad Burton died three times on the way to the hospital after he was hit head-on by a drunk driver. He was in a coma for 39 days and doctors had to remove part of his skull for six months. When he woke up he couldn’t remember his parent’s names. Now, 20 years later, he is still mostly paralyzed down the left side of his body.

Chad talks about his struggles saying, “Whatever it takes, you count your blessings and move on.” He talks about learning to walk again. He offers to show the students how he can tie his shoes with one hand and explains that being able to do this was a big deal for him. It seems like such a small thing until he explains that he wasn’t “going back to high school in Walmart Velcro shoes.” You can tell it has hit a chord with the kids. They laugh but they also look a little thoughtful. He’s found a way to connect the possibility of this tragedy to them, to make then think about his injury in terms of their everyday lives.

Hopefully he and Penny have managed to save a few lives as a result.