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Out of harm’s way

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Teens learned a vital lesson during Spinal Cord Inury Awareness Week.

The idea was to educate teens about the dangers of accidents that can lead to paralyzing injuries.

Message received, said Western High School student Ali Bruns.

”People get in rushes and they don’t put seat belts on,” the 16-year-old Davie girl said. “When I am around people, I will definitely make sure they are wearing their seat belt.”

That kind of awareness is exactly what former professional race car driver Darrell Gwynn wants to hear.

Paralyzed after a drag racing accident 16 years ago, the Weston man is now focused on keeping others safe.

His organization, the Darrell Gwynn Foundation, recently inaugurated Florida Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week, the first of its kind anywhere in the nation for paralysis prevention.

Gwynn, Marc Buoniconti and other disabled individuals visited schools throughout the state Nov. 13-19.

In addition, the Florida Department of Health ran a series of public service announcements featuring celebrities such as NASCAR NEXTEL Cup driver Tony Stewart.

The ultimate goal was to reduce spinal cord injuries in the state, which has a high risk for injuries because of residents’ active year-round lifestyle.

”Nobody puts their trampolines away, no one puts their boats away, and there are activities year-round,” Gwynn said.

He spoke to students at Western High in Davie on Nov. 16 about what it’s like to be paralyzed.

While most people dress in 15 minutes, Gwynn said it takes almost an hour and a half for an aide to help him get ready.

”It’s not a fun lifestyle. Still, I have a pretty good quality of life,” he said.

Gwynn described the kind of damage people often sustain in a car accident — especially since it’s common to be thrown out of the vehicle head first.

”Even if your head survives, your neck doesn’t. It’s kind of the weakest link in the body,” Gwynn said.

He talked about not allowing children to wear backpacks while belted into a car because it made them more Prone to neck injuries in an accident.

”I didn’t even know that was dangerous,” said Faraz Ali, 17, of Sunrise. “I’m going to make sure my little sister knows.”

Gwynn also had advice for young drivers who might be tempted to race on South Florida roadways.

He told them to make good choices and race only in controlled environments, such as a legal track where drivers are hemmed in by retaining walls.

”If you lose control, you’re going to flip and hit trees and finally come to a rest with all the energy exhausted in that accident,” he said.

The foundation joined with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis to create brochures on injury prevention tips and information that were distributed at schools.

For information, visit www.darrellgwynnfounda

Special to The Miami Herald

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