The Kirkwood Call

Crashing into their minds

Anna-Claire Kilcoyne, Writer

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According to Anna Poe, sophomore, it was a routine, cool evening in April and she and her dad, David Poe, were driving back to her mom’s house in Illinois when their small, torn up Mustang was suddenly hit on the driver’s side by a SUV speeding through the intersection.

Twelve-year-old Anna was found by an ambulance of off-duty paramedics, in shock but seemingly uninjured in the passenger seat of the totaled car. Even though her physical injuries were minimal, Anna would now be a part of the 5 percent of adolescents aged 13-18 that have met criteria for post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) in their lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. Her dad lay in the driver’s seat unable to move.

“I remember panicking [because] I didn’t know if my dad was hurt or not,” Anna said. “I didn’t even know if I was badly hurt or not, I was just focused on calling 911. I was [completely] in shock.”

The ambulance immediately took Anna and David to the emergency room. David suffered from a broken arm, broken ribs and a broken collarbone as well as damage to his shoulders and knees. Anna sustained no injuries other than cuts, bruises and a deep mark on her chest from the seat belt. Had she been in the driver’s seat during the collision, doctors say she would have died on impact. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six teens ages 16 to 19 die everyday because of car crashes.

“It’s scary knowing [everything is] out of your control, and no matter what you do or how careful you are, anything could happen,” Anna said.

Sam Neuhaus, senior, also experienced a life-changing event when his mom had a near-death experience when he was 16-years-old. Neuhaus’ mom was driving through an intersection on Kirkwood Road in their family’s van when another car ran a red light and crashed into her. The impact caused the van to flip onto a third car and land on the road, on the driver’s side of the car.

“I was just hoping my mom wasn’t severely hurt, that she was still alive,” Neuhaus said. “I was extremely worried. When I heard what [the car looked like], and when I actually saw [it], there was just this sinking feeling, and we just didn’t know. It was scary and awful.”

Although the car crash was life-threatening, Neuhaus’ mom survived. Her only injury was a small scratch on her left hand. Neuhaus described it as a miracle from God.

“I am religious, and that [event] showed me God works in mysterious ways,” Neuhaus said. “I realized how lucky I am, and how I need to appreciate my family more. I could have lost my mom, and she’s a major source of support [for me], so it’s amazing she wasn’t severely injured. It was a miracle.”

Apart from the physical risks of the crashes, Neuhaus and Anna were also in danger of long-term mental health problems, according to Dr. Katie Thompson from Consano Therapy. Thompson works to help patients who develop PTSD from traumatic events including car crashes. She defines PTSD as “a physical or psychological response to stimuli or triggers related to an unresolved event.” PTSD can be developed after a single or a series of traumatic events, and symptoms include flashbacks, intrusive images or thoughts about the event, feeling distracted, isolated, overwhelmed or out of control, depression and anxiety.

“[No matter what the incident is], PTSD always has the same symptoms, but around different stimuli,” Thompson said. “A car crash could be the cause [of the PTSD], but many times the crash is the thing that reawakens unresolved trauma [from the past].”

In the past, Neuhaus and Anna have experienced several symptoms of PTSD including flashbacks, intrusive images and anxiety. They believe, however, the car crash ceased to have negative impacts on their lives and neither of them believe they ever suffered from PTSD.

“[After the car crash], I [would get] really anxious whenever I was driving,” Anna said. “I got [diagnosed with] anxiety when I was 13, and I think the car crash was a factor. It doesn’t really affect me now [though], other than being really cautious when I drive.”

No one was severely injured in either of those cases, and neither Neuhaus nor Anna left the experience with serious, long-term mental health injuries. However, according to Thompson, research shows 15 percent of people involved in car crashes, whether in the car or just bystanders, later develop PTSD and must be treated for it.

“Many people with PTSD try to avoid it, but that can just make it stay longer and get worse,” Thompson said. “PTSD is always treatable, but it is extremely unlikely a person can recover without professional help.”

According to Thompson, by not getting the help they need people with PTSD are at risk for other events in life to become even more upsetting. People who suffer from PTSD also have a higher risk for depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive-disorder and substance abuse. The best way you can help someone with PTSD is to create a helpful support system for them and encourage them to get the help they need.

“I am more cautious [now] when driving, and I think about how I can make sure the crash doesn’t happen,” Neuhaus said. “[I am also more] thankful now, because you never know when a thing like this might happen. We’ve put it behind us and [we] look at it as a strengthening experience.”

use3Zachary Clingenpeel

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Crashing into their minds