Phil Turns Devastating Accident Into Safety Lessons for Local Youth
Spends HIs Spare Time Giving Presentations Advocating ‘Think First’ to Young People
After going through all the pain and devastation of his life-changing experience and finding the will to beat the odds, Phil decided he wanted to turn his horrible experience into a positive one for others by becoming an advocate for safety, urging young people to be safe and not let one moment of poor judgment affect the rest of their lives. You see, Phil wasn’t wearing his seat belt when he had his accident, and was thrown out of the car, damaging his spine when he hit the ground. If he would have been wearing his seat belt, he would have remained safely in the car, greatly reducing his chance of serious injury.
Originally, Phil joined a national advocacy group called “Think First”, an organization that holds school assemblies and other gatherings to advocate safety, using people who have experienced severe, permanent injuries in accidents to address the assemblies. After being a speaker for a few years in the Northwest, he left SAV-ON Insurance and moved to California, starting a chapter in Palm Springs.
After a year of that, he decided to move his family back to Washington and return to SAV-ON Insurance full-time, devoting some of his spare time advocating safety to young people with a positive theme, “Don’t lose faith in yourself”.
In 2007, he started speaking to driving schools, stressing safety and reminding students that they aren’t invincible, that one lapse in judgment can mean a lifetime of suffering. When he describes his own experience, it hits home for many young people just learning to drive.
Now Phil has expanded his audience to include elementary school children. He talks to them at a level that they understand. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he asks the class. Many respond with “policeman” or “firefighter.”
“I wanted to be a firefighter, too,” he responds. “But, in order to be a firefighter, you need a strong body, and so I can never be a firefighter now. My accident changed all that.”
He talks about injuries that have no cure. Your brain, he says, is what gives you your personality. If you injure your brain, then you lose your friends, because you are not the same person anymore. This gets the kids’ attention, since they can’t imagine losing their friends.
Be careful when you’re swimming this summer, he cautions the students. Broken necks from diving into shallow water can cause paralysis or death. Similarly, riding a bike or skateboard without a helmet can cause a serious injury if you fall on your head.
He uses props to really bring the safety issue home to them. He takes a piece of licorice and tells them this represents their spinal cord. He then snaps it in half. “This is what happened to me,” he emphasizes. “You can’t put it back together again once that happens.”
Next comes the melon demonstration. He puts a melon in a bike helmet, tightening the chin strap down tightly, and tells the kids that this represents someone’s head. He picks a kid out of the group and asks them to drop the helmet onto the ground. The melon is still intact after it hits. Then, he takes the melon out of the helmet and hands it to the student. Then he tells the child to “drop the melon.”
The melon hits the ground and breaks open. The kids look wide-eyed as Phil tells them that, without a helmet, this is what could happen to your head. The demonstration has a dramatic impact on the kids, and suddenly there are a lot of open mouths and surprised looks.
“When I first get to the classroom, the kids all think they are invincible, that they can heal from any injury,” Phil says. “Then, after the melon breaks, they have a big change of heart. At the end I have them all shouting, ‘Think first!’”
“It’s gratifying to know that I’m making a difference in these kids’ lives.”
Below are just a couple of the 'Thank You' cards that the kids have sent him: