Helmets On part 2: ATV safety course and injury prevention in New Stuyahok follow near-fatal crash

December 12, 2019

Read the story of Jared Hanson, who was in an ATV crash that was felt by the entire community in Helmets On part 1: Community of New Stuyahok shaken following near-fatal crash.

In a vehicle or transportation crash incident, there are three types of damage: to the vehicle, to the human body and to vital internal organs. Traumatic brain injuries are caused by a blow, bump, jolt or other head injury that causes damage to the brain. 

From 2012 to 2016, 200 Alaska Native people were hospitalized for traumatic brain injuries on average every year; of those hospitalizations, about one out of five were from ATV, snowmachine and bicycle crashes.

The impacts of Jared Hanson’s ATV crash were far reaching beyond just the initial event. He was launched from the ATV, left with a laundry list of injuries and changes to his life forever.  

His crash also sent shockwaves through the New Stuyahok community of about 500 residents. This could have happened to anyone, regardless of experience or age on an ATV. The residents of New Stuyahok asked: How could they make ATV safety a priority and bring awareness so this wouldn’t happen to another child? 

“The idea came about while we were at the hospital. [Providers and I were] discussing the few accidents around the state involving ATVs and that our village had a few teenagers involved,” Gloria Hanson, Jared’s mother, said. “I mentioned that I was a health aide.”

“While caring for Jared, Gloria shared that she was a CHA/P and John shared that he was a Tribal Council Member,” said Susan Romero, the Pediatric Critical Care Nurse Practitioner who cared for Jared and the family during their pediatric critical care stay at ANMC. “They expressed an urgent desire to partner with ANMC to bring ATV safety education to the school as soon as possible. 

“They were asking what could be done to get kids to wear their helmets.” 

Things started to move quickly. In June 2018, as Alaska ATV season was in full swing, Romero sent out a call to potentially interested parties for support of ATV safety education in New Stuyahok. She met and Dr. Elisha Brownson, Trauma Medical Director at ANMC, met with the family to discuss different possibilities. 

“The Trauma department at ANTHC not only treats traumatic injuries but also helps provide education for injury prevention to prevent them from occurring in the first place,” Dr. Brownson said. 

The ANTHC Injury Prevention program, in the midst of developing an ATV safety course for rural Tribal communities, was brought on board. The program, which uses a public health approach to injury prevention, works with a statewide network of local Tribal injury prevention specialists, including Kurt Buttelmann from Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation. His recent ATV safety efforts in Pilot Point primary school included education, local enforcement by the Village Police Safety Officer and helmet distribution. 

“There have been a few crashes on ATVs, but every passenger was wearing a helmet and did not have a head injury,” said Buttelmann, BBHC Injury Prevention Specialist. New Stuyahok had similar, but specific needs.  

“There was a community ask, not only from the Tribal Council but also from the school, Chief Ivan Blunka, to have more education,” said Ingrid Stevens, ANTHC Injury Prevention Manager. 

In August 2018, Chief Ivan Blunka School principal Robin Jones and vice principal Meghan Redmond worked with BBAHC (Buttelmann) and an ANTHC team from Trauma (Brownson), Pediatric Intensive Care (Romero), and Injury Prevention (Stevens and Andrea Grenier) to coordinate a visit to New Stuyahok. Jones and Redmond organized a community meeting and to help community leaders better understand their needs. Attendees included State Troopers, Community Health Aide Providers (Hanson), Tribal Council president and board members, and parents.

Since we’re getting helmets, this is what I’m saying to my boys. Now, if you want to ride a Honda – helmet on.” 

John Hanson

“Community members reached out to build a partnership with ANTHC, both with the Trauma department and Injury Prevention, to help come up with a plan,” Brownson said. “This included engaging the community with education about ATV crashes, as well as building a curriculum for students to learn about ATV safety.” 

Ingrid Stevens, ANTHC Injury Prevention Manager. gets a thumbs up from students for a proper fitting helmet.
Chief Ivan Blunka School student shows off his coloring of an ATV helmet in his workbook.
"Helmets On" sticker on a locker at Chief Ivan Blunka School.
ANMC Pediatric Critical Care Nurse Practitioner Susan Romero (center) leads a training simulation for CHA/Ps at the health clinic in New Stuyahok.
CHA/Ps at the New Stuyahok health clinic run a simulation for a pediatric patient. .
ATV parked behind a playground as children play in New Stuyahok.
A boy jumps from a swing in New Stuyahok.
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Following the gathering, ANTHC Injury Prevention was granted permission from the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, to adapt their ATV safety material specifically for an Alaska Native youth audience. Similar work had been done with the Kenai Peninsula Safe Kids coordinator, Jane Fellman, and included safety activities for each lesson, like how to properly fit a helmet. The Injury Prevention program and Trauma department included these activities and created an ATV safety workbooks and lesson plans for two age groups: students grades K-5 and 6-12. 

The ANTHC team traveled back to New Stuyahok in January 2019 to deliver the lessons to the 6th through 12th graders. They and Buttelmann followed up with the younger students during a third visit in late April during the school’s Discovery Week, where students learned traditional practices like sewing, meat processing and hunter safety along with getting to try new things like disc golf. Because ATVs are such an important part of life in rural Alaska, there was also an ATV maintenance class during Discovery Week.   

“We’re being provided with information from specialists,” special education teacher Ben Griese said about the visits from the ANTHC team. “People that know and can provide us with real, valuable information that we can use.” 

BBAHC and ANTHC were also able to help secure funding for helmets for every child that took the ATV safety course. In total, 120 students in New Stuyahok went through the education and received a helmet. To make the helmets more appealing, ANTHC created a “Helmets On!” sticker with the school’s mascot, the bald eagle. 

ANTHC team that traveled to New Stuyahok to teach ATV safety. Left to right: Hanna Gillis, Susan Romero, Dr. Elisha Brownson and Ingrid Stevens.

“ATVs are a strong and versatile mode of transportation, much like Alaska Native people. Changing the culture of ATV safety, which includes snowmachines in the winter, begins at the community level,” said Stevens.

The community meetings held in New Stuyahok started the conversation, with discussion about gathering additional data about the cause of ATV crashes, improving roads and trails, creating municipal laws and enforcement, and continuing to educate young riders. 

“Throughout the numerous visits to New Stuyahok, the community readily opened their homes to us and embraced us into their community,” Romero said. “It has been a great pleasure to learn about their way of life while they learned about health and injury prevention from us. The community’s commitment to this program has been an amazing experience.”

During the last visit, Bristol Bay Native Association transportation planner, Annie Fritze, attended the community meeting and shared opportunities to include these activities in their Tribal Transportation Safety Plan. John and Gloria Hanson were also in attendance and supported the plan.

“We’ve been doing this a long time from our ancestors to who we are now – and then passing it down to our kids so they can pass it down to their kids,” John Hanson said about subsistence hunting. 

Now they aim to do the same with ATVs. 

“We’re teaching our kids now about safety. So, since we’re getting helmets, this is what I’m saying to my boys. Now, if you want to ride a Honda – helmet on.” 

For ATV safe riding and planning with TRIPSS, visit www.anthc.org/HelmetsOn

For more ANTHC videos, visit www.anthc.org/videos.

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