It's been a decade since emergency nurse Roxanne Woods flew via helicopter from UC Davis Medical Center to the scene of a skateboard accident in Elk Grove. Yet she's still haunted by the stark image of the 10-year-old boy who died that day. His head had been crushed by a van because he was not wearing a helmet.
"By the time we got there, and the parents got there, he was already dead," Woods recalls. "What do you say to the mom and dad? 'If he had just had a helmet on, he might have lived.' Until you look into those parents' eyes, you can't know what it's like. Their lives are changed forever by something that was truly preventable."
Not long after that flight, Woods became coordinator of the trauma outreach and prevention program for UC Davis Health System. And ever since, she's been probably the Sacramento area's staunchest proponent of bike-helmet use, car-seat safety and teen-driver education. She heads a trauma prevention team that works with local community groups to reduce accident rates, advocate for enhanced safety legislation and enforcement, provide educational programs, and distribute bike helmets, child car seats and life vests.
A public health issue
Woods, who has worked for UC Davis since 1974, is passionate when she says preventing trauma is a public health issue.
"I've seen firsthand the devastating trauma that occurs in our region. That makes me even more determined to take whatever steps we can to reduce the number of accidents and save lives."
The three main reasons children are admitted to the medical center are auto accidents, auto-pedestrian and bicycle crashes. In 2006, UC Davis admitted nearly 750 children under the age of 18 with traumatic injuries, with about 14 percent injured in auto-pedestrian collisions and 6 percent injured in auto-bicycle crashes.
Over the years, the trauma prevention program has received several grants from the state Office of Traffic Safety to increase awareness of the importance of bicycle helmets and to reduce injuries to children in bicycle and traffic accidents. The grants enabled UC Davis and its community partners to plan educational programs, purchase and distribute bicycle helmets to needy children, and sponsor bike and pedestrian rodeos with public safety agencies in local schools.
UC Davis' traffic safety program began in 2001, after it purchased a portable "safe city" with a grant of about $200,000 from the Office of Traffic Safety. The trauma prevention staff completed training using the make-believe city as a teaching tool. They in turn trained members of the California Highway Patrol, Woodland and Sacramento police officers and health-care providers. Since 2002, 68 schools have received the traffic-safety presentations, reaching more than 40,000 children in grades kindergarten through sixth, Woods says, and that number excludes programs held at health and safety fairs.
Sacramento Police Officer Steve Womack teamed up with UC Davis' trauma prevention program two years ago to teach traffic safety to schoolchildren.
The partnership "has been tremendously beneficial," he says. "Roxanne and her staff do a wonderful job in getting the message out about resources available to the public. The bottom line is the more resources we have available to us, the more people we can reach in terms of safety and preventing accidents."
When the trauma prevention program received the initial grant, only one in every 10 children admitted to UC Davis Medical Center for bicycle injuries was wearing a safety helmet. Today, that number is almost five in every 10.
"We've only achieved this important outcome through widespread education and collaboration with local agencies," Woods says. Children seen at UC Davis for bicycle injuries, whether in the emergency department or admitted to the hospital, are given properly fitted helmets to wear when they ride.
For the past decade, the trauma prevention program also has run a child-passenger safety-education project, funded in part by the Office of Traffic Safety. The program collaborates with children's coalitions and local law enforcement to reduce pediatric mortality from auto collisions by promoting the use of child-passenger safety seats. Grants to UC Davis Health System from corporate donors help defray the cost of purchasing car seats for newborn babies of disadvantaged families born at UC Davis and offering car seats at reduced cost to low-income families.
Encouraging car-seat safety
"We probably go through $30,000 worth of car seats a year," Woods says. "Not only are we the Level 1 trauma center, we care for a substantial number of poor families who have been in car crashes and need a car seat to go home. Our philosophy is that they leave here safer than when they arrived."
Becky Michalkiewicz, statewide child passenger safety coordinator for the California Highway Patrol, says the CHP has joined with the trauma prevention program at many car-seat safety inspections in Sacramento County. CHP officers also have attended training classes offered by the program.
"People rely on UC Davis as a critical resource," she says. "It's made a huge difference in spreading the word about the state's child restraint law."
Woods also has teamed up with the CHP in the Every 15 Minutes program. The two-day program challenges high school juniors and seniors to think about drinking alcohol and driving, and making decisions that will affect family, friends and others. The program brings together a broad coalition of local agencies with the goal of reducing alcohol-related incidents among youth.
About one-third of all 16- to 20-year-olds admitted to UC Davis Medical Center from motor vehicle crashes had consumed alcohol.
"That is very high, considering we should have zero tolerance for alcohol and driving," Woods says.
The trauma prevention program also has worked with the Sac Metro Fire District in its "Operation River Safe" program, which loans out life jackets to boaters on the American River on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays. UC Davis is the largest contributor to the effort, providing sponsored funds to purchase an additional 600 life jackets. Metro Fire now has 1,500 life jackets available for loan.
Making a difference
UC Davis' "willingness to contribute and take the lead has inspired companies and community groups to get involved to help keep people safe on our waterways," says Captain Jeff Lynch of the Metro Fire District. "I'm absolutely convinced that lives have been saved because of the efforts of the trauma prevention program."
All of her efforts in outreach and prevention are a labor of love, Woods says.
"I truly love what I do because we do make a difference. I love bringing people in the community together. When you get police officers, firefighters, advocates, doctors and nurses on the same page and say this is a problem, people start thinking about solutions."
Trauma prevention is not rocket science, Woods adds. "Prevention truly is easy. Think about your risk-taking – accidents are almost always preventable. If it's predictable, it's really preventable."