Jessi Meyer, rehabilitation counselor for The Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis and Heather Heil, injury prevention coordinator for Barnes-Jewish trauma services, present the ThinkFirst program to a local high school.

Studies show that the young rather than the old tend to engage more frequently in risk-taking behavior. With age, comes a keener sense of one’s mortality. Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the national ThinkFirst program recognize this and address it with a program geared specifically to teenagers. As a Level 1 Trauma Center, with recognition by the American College of Surgeons, Barnes-Jewish is dedicated to engaging in programs like ThinkFirst to create awareness of injury prevention in our community.

ThinkFirst for Teens is a dramatic program that takes a more serious look at risk-taking activities through the eyes of young people who have suffered brain or spinal cord injuries. Jessi Meyer is one of these young people who suffered a life-changing accident.

In 2005, Meyer and her grandmother were standing on a hill next to their van when she noticed the emergency brake on. She leaned in to disengage the brake, not knowing the van was in reverse. When the van began rolling down the hill, the door slammed into Meyer folding her in half.

Meyer spent a week at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, nine weeks as an inpatient at The Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis, followed by five months as an outpatient working on her recovery and mobility.

Meyer was still in college when the accident happened. Afterward, she changed her career path to become a rehabilitation counselor. “Obviously, this was a huge life change for me and I wanted to be able to help others adjust who might be in similar situations,” says Meyer. Shortly before Meyer graduated, she was contacted by The Rehabilitation Institute, which was looking for a full-time counselor.

In addition to her position as a rehabilitation counselor, Meyer is a Voice for Injury Prevention (VIP) speaker for the ThinkFirst program. She and other VIP speakers join Heather Heil, director of ThinkFirst’s St. Louis branch and the injury prevention coordinator for Barnes- Jewish trauma services, to educate teenagers about the anatomy of the brain, spinal cord and central nervous system. The VIP speakers share their personal stories, discussing how they were injured, how they could have prevented the injury and how they deal with life after paralysis or brain injury.

“The goal is to create a forum for open and frank dialogue about this topic before an accident or injury happens,” says Heil. “If we can get teens to be more thoughtful about their actions, hopefully some of these injuries will be prevented.”

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