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Dedicated to preventing injuries

| Source: whig.com

CANTON, Mo. — Penny Lorenz isn’t bitter about the car crash 24 years ago that left her with a severe spinal cord injury.

“Life is too short to lay around or sit around and be bitter and angry,” Lorenz told students at Culver-Stockton College on Tuesday. “I learned to pick up the pieces and move forward a long time ago.”

Still, Lorenz wants to help prevent others from a similar fate, or worse.

“I don’t have a bad life at all, but with this injury, it’s not one I would recommend for anyone,” she said. “There’s still not a day I wake up that I can find something positive about having a spinal cord injury. I hate it.”

Lorenz was 17 years old when her life changed dramatically on Dec. 23, 1982. She was a high school junior, riding with a friend in a car in Harrisburg, Mo. She was not wearing a seat belt. She remembers telling her friend to slow down, that she was taking a curve too fast.

The friend replied that she wasn’t driving very fast and said, “Hey, watch this.”

Lorenz isn’t sure what the friend was going to show her.

The car crashed, throwing Lorenz through the windshield and into a field. The car rolled and landed on top of her; fortunately with all four wheels on the ground.

“That’s pretty rare,” she said.

Lorenz said because the land was soggy from rain, her body sunk into the ground with just enough space that she wasn’t crushed by the car. Among the injuries she suffered were a punctured lung and a spinal cord injury. Her lower limbs were paralyzed, and she was given just a 10 percent chance of walking again.

Lorenz knows that her injuries, though severe, could have been worse.

“People don’t die in car crashes. They’re killed violently,” Lorenz emphasizes. “And they die because of driver error.”

A few years after her crash, Lorenz got involved with ThinkFirst Missouri, an award-winning trauma prevention program of the University of Missouri School of Medicine, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She now serves as its assistant director.

ThinkFirst Missouri strives to educate people, especially high-risk young people, about their vulnerability to brain and spinal cord injury and how to prevent them.

Lorenz’ presentation at C-SC, “Using Your Mind to Protect Your Body,” was offered as part of the college’s Academic and Cultural Event program. She says vehicle crashes occur because of drowsy, distracted driving; fast or aggressive driving; or impaired driving because of alcohol or other drugs.

Chad Burton of Columbia was 17 when he fell asleep while driving and collided head-on with a driver who had been drinking. Burton wasn’t wearing a seat belt and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He spent 5 1/2 weeks in a coma. He can’t use his left arm and walks with a brace on his left leg.

It was a sobering moment Tuesday when Burton demonstrated how he ties his shoelaces with one hand.

Rusty Burris, who spoke in a short video that Lorenz showed, was just 90 seconds from his home when he fell asleep at the wheel. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the vehicle when it crashed. He suffered a spinal cord injury resulting in Paraplegia.

“In one instant, all my hopes and dreams … were gone,” Burris said. “I was just 90 seconds from home and thought I could stay awake. I didn’t make it.

“Regret is the heaviest burden you will ever bear. I know, because I bear it every day.”

Lorenz shares these and other traumatic stories to get young people to pay attention and take precautions.

“It’s one thing if you hurt yourself or take your own life. If you take another life, that’s something that would be harder to deal with,” she said. “There are a lot of lives driving out there with you. Be safe.”

By Kelly Wilson
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
(217) 221-3391

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