Prom season is here. And while most of the focus is on dresses, dates and dinners, another issue lurks in the background that could make prom night memorable for the wrong reasons.
Across Beaufort County, schools have been warning students of the dangers of drinking and driving with the hope of saving young lives.
At Hilton Head Island High School, all students who went to prom were required to attend a lecture beforehand. Savannah's Memorial University Medical Center chief trauma resident Dr. Nessa Miller gave the students a lesson on what she sees in the trauma unit. She showed the teenagers photos of people who had been involved in accidents and described what steps she takes to save a patient's life.
Miller told the students about the unpleasant truths of a traumatic situation, pointing out to them that it's not so "cool" to drink and drive when you end up in critical condition in the hospital. She told the group of young people that every patient who comes in for a trauma gets drug tested. They lose all dignity when they are stripped naked for all the doctors and nurses to see.
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She then shared a personal story with the students. When she was young, she and a group of friends were involved in a car accident. She displayed a photo of her good friend who died as a result of the accident. She said her friend was sitting in the back seat of the car without a seat belt when they left.
"At the end, she was on the road," Miller said. "That's why I do what I do."
A teacher in the crowd asked the surgeon to explain to the students what happens when people drink too much, even if they're not driving. Miller told the story of a patient who had vomited so much from drinking that her esophagus ripped apart from her stomach.
Senior Cady Roberts said she went to prom last year and attended the same presentation but it was still intense.
"The message was great because it didn't focus on really just drinking and driving, but trauma in general, and what can happen and what will happen," she said.
Senior Connor Hollifield said he thought most students could take away a good message from the discussion.
"I think it will definitely make people more aware to make better decisions for prom," he said.
In order to pick up their children's prom tickets, parents of students attending prom at Hilton Head Island High also had to attend a meeting with Dudley Ruffalo, a lawyer who explained the legal consequences for parents who provide opportunities for parties and drugs.
Students at Whale Branch Early College High School were also required to attend a presentation to get their prom tickets, district officials said. The school resource officer, EMS officers and Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen spoke to students about the dangers of drinking and driving. Students were given prom promise cards and "See You on Monday" banners to sign, pledges that students make to be safe and not drink and drive.
Battery Creek High School students heard presentations from the Students Against Drunk Driving club as well as the coroner.
Beaufort High School students who wish to go to prom must attend a "Prom Promise" assembly that will focus on appropriate behavior and safe practices.
Bluffton High School prom-goers and their parents are required to complete a form that "commits them to being aware of, and observing, specific expectations with regard to school policies, appropriate dress and approval of guests," district spokesman Jim Foster wrote in an email to The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. He said the school resource officer gave a presentation on prom safety.
Hilton Head Island High principal Amanda O'Nan said she hoped the lecture her students heard would encourage them to make good choices not only on prom night but year-round.
"I'm hoping they walk away with a little bit more self-awareness that their decisions can have long-term consequences that aren't always positive," she said.
Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.