Brain damage and spinal cord injury can be prevented by thinking first.
Jesse Gildea, Think First Voice for Injury Prevention speaker, delivered a message about safety to the students of St. Paul Lutheran Church Tuesday.
"You damage your brain or spinal cord, the injury lasts forever," he said. "There's not a single person in this whole entire world who can fix their brain or spinal cord once they're damaged."
More than 5,000 Iowans each year, Gildea said, suffer either brain or spinal cord damage. The age group 15-24 is the most likely group to suffer these injuries because they are more active and take more risks.
"That's approximately 13 Iowans per day," he said. "A majority of those could have been prevented with better choices."
Gildea emphasized the importance of wearing a helmet when engaging in sports or other activities.
"It only takes three or four seconds to put a helmet on your head," he said.
Gildea spoke about his own experiences, a living example of the importance of being safe. Growing up in Osceola, he was a motocross enthusiast, calling it "my absolute passion." In 2006, he was in a crash. The spinal cord injury he suffered left him with little feeling and no function from his waist down.
He would have died if he wasn't wearing a helmet.
"It absolutely saved my life," he said, showing the students the helmet he wore that day. "I wouldn't be here today if not for the helmet."
Helmets are 85 percent effective when worn properly, Gildea noted.
Gildea said his injuries, though, haven't diminished his love of motocross. Using a modified motorcycle, he competed recently at the ESPN Summer X Games, where he won a silver medal in adaptive competition.
A Think First testimonial video showed those who suffered brain damage or spinal cord injuries when they were young, speaking of their experiences and the impact it has had on their lives, including Gildea.
"At some point the rest of your life you're going to be faced with choices or decisions similar to what some of the kids in the video have been faced with," he said to the audience.
Gildea also showed footage of himself getting into a car. The process, involving lifting himself into the seat and dismantling his wheelchair, takes more than minute and a half, he said. It takes longer in inclement weather.
While the students he spoke to were not old enough to drive, Gildea warned about riding with someone who might be texting or using a cell phone while on the road. He urged the students to ask those people to not do either while driving, or to find a different means of transportation.
"People don't realize how dangerous it is," he said. "Would you drive down the road blindfolded for five seconds?"
Gildea provided five simple safety tips: always wear your seat belt, always wear a helmet, avoid violence, check water depth before diving, drive chemically free and avoid distractions.
"We don't want to be fun-haters," he said. "We just want you to take a few extra seconds to think first and make those safe choices."