June 5, 2002
Sammy Safety encourages Hattiesburg children to 'think first' about injury prevention
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
HATTIESBURG, Miss.—Sammy Safety, Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s certified safety superhero, encouraged children in south Mississippi to always think first about safety and injury prevention when he visited Hattiesburg on June 3-4.
Sammy is part of Think First, the Jackson hospital’s statewide injury prevention program aimed at young children and teenagers that tries to prevent spinal cord, brain and other traumatic injuries by focusing on bicycle, automobile, firearm, boat, swimming and diving safety.
Sammy and the Think First team presented a summer safety program at the Hattiesburg YMCA day camp on June 3 and kicked off a statewide bike safety tag campaign at two Hattiesburg bicycle shops on June 4.
Whether dancing across the stage in his size 18 shoes, demonstrating the proper way to wear a bike helmet or showing kids how to stop, drop and roll if caught on fire, Sammy makes learning about safety a fun and memorable experience, said Jim Albritton, public relations director at Methodist Rehab.
“Auditoriums can get pretty loud when he enters,” Albritton said. “Children who weren’t paying much attention before really sit up and take notice when they see Sammy. And you can’t help but smile when you see him dance across the stage to an N’Sync song.”
Think First is designed to entertain and inform children, said Mark Adams, Methodist Rehab president and CEO. “The speakers, the mascot and all the other elements give children a chance to see how important it is to prevent traumatic injuries. And the response from educators has been wonderful. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results.”
In the past year 60 Think First programs have been presented across the state and more than 14,000 Mississippi children have heard the hospital’s injury prevention message. That number will grow on June 3 when the Think First team arrives in Hattiesburg.
Erin Pryor, a physical therapist at Methodist Rehab, and Fair, a specially trained golden retriever, also participated in the YMCA program, showing 300 day-campers how they work with spinal cord and brain-injured patients at the Jackson Hospital. Fair is a canine companion and was trained in Santa Rosa, Calif., to work with patients who have disabilities or limitations. The four-year-old dog is the only facility dog in Mississippi and has been working at Methodist Rehab for two years.
“We want children and parents to know that most brain spinal cord injuries are preventable,” said Think First director Lauren Fairburn. “Children and adults should always remember to wear a seatbelt, helmet and to use common sense.”
Think First speakers volunteer their time to encourage others to wear safety belts when driving, helmets when riding bicycles or motorcycles and to think about what they’re doing before they get into any potentially dangerous situation.
“We work closely with schools, YMCAs and other organizations to do all we can to prevent traumatic, often life-changing injuries,” said Albritton. Children are very responsive when they see Sammy and meet our speakers. They really seem to understand the message and we hope they learn to think first about safety and injury prevention.”
Due to the success of Methodist Rehab’s safety tag campaign last Christmas, the hospital has begun offering the bike tags to bike shops and other retailers all across the state year round.
The tags encourage parents to remember to buy safety helmets and knee and elbow pads when they purchase bicycles, scooters, roller blades and skateboards for their children.
Sammy Safety kicked off the campaign in south Mississippi at the Hattiesburg Bike Center and at Moore’s Bicycle Shop. Sammy and members of the Think First team placed safety tags on bicycles and scooters in the Hattiesburg stores.
Methodist Rehab is offering the safety tags to any Mississippi store that sells bikes, scooters, skateboards or other toys with wheels. Stores interested in distributing the tags should call (601) 364-3451.
“Parents must remember that for bikes, scooters, skateboards, roller skates or in-line skates, a helmet is a necessity, not an accessory,” said Dr. Rahul Vohra, medical director at Methodist Rehab. “And children who are outside riding bikes or scooters or skating should always wear reflective clothing or stickers or use bike reflectors.”
Each year an estimated 580,000 cyclists are treated in emergency rooms and more than 20,000 others are admitted to hospitals. “Wearing bike helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent,” said Dr. Vohra.
Last year an estimated 500,000 people sustained brain and spinal cord injuries in the United States. The most frequent causes of these injuries are automobile crashes, falls, athletic injuries, especially diving, and violence. Children and teens are at high-risk for these devastating injuries, many of which are preventable.
Think First speakers, including accident victims, physical therapists, paramedics and physicians, are available to speak to assemblies at elementary and high schools in central Mississippi.