Preventable injuries cost Alberta Health Services nearly $4B per year

Alberta is spending just under $4 billion annually on injuries, which works out to $1,083 for every Albertan. Professionals say prevention needs to be a greater priority.

'So many injuries today are predictable and preventable,' says one victim

There was a time when Kiley Geddie led a busy life.

 He worked long, hard hours in road construction, doing everything from operating heavy equipment to raking and shovelling asphalt.

"It was a passion of mine, " said Geddie, sitting in his wheelchair at the Injury Prevention Centre at the University of Alberta on Thursday.

"I loved every single day, I used to have such a smile on my face."

Geddie even had plans of opening up his own road construction company. But that all changed for him on a boys trip to Radium Hot springs on Jan. 17, 2005.

He and his friends had been drinking in a local pub that afternoon, when they decided to make a move. Geddie and his friends piled into a vehicle.

Little did they know it had been raining earlier, and roads had turned icy, with fresh snow cover. With a sober driver behind the wheel, they turned onto the highway.

Geddie said he felt hot in the car and took off his seatbelt. It would be a split-second decision that would change his life forever. 

Geddie's life changed forever

"We hit a patch of ice, and we slid off the road and we rolled five times," recalled Geddie. "About the second roll, I remember hearing this loud snap that was the sound of my head hitting the roof and my life being changed forever."

Geddie suffered a broken neck, fracturing vertebrae and severing his spinal cord.

The next 11 months were spent in hospital recovering and going through rehabilitation. It left him with no use of his legs, torso, and limited movement of his arms.

In the meantime, Geddie's life started to change. He separated from his fiancé. His mother became very depressed over his injury and also needed to be hospitalized. And his once promising career in road construction was over. 

"I used to be an extremely independent person," said Geddie. "It was very difficult for me to come to a point where I had to actually ask people to do simple things, like cook for me, or help me go to the bathroom."

Since his accident, Geddie has dedicated his life towards injury prevention programs like P.A.R.T.Y., Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth. He tours around schools telling kids his story, hoping to inspire them to make positive life choices . 

"So many injuries today are predictable and preventable," said Geddie, who delivers that same message to kids in junior high and high school.

No. 1 killer in first four decades of life

It's a message the Injury Prevention Centre at the University of Alberta wants everyone to hear loud and clear. In Alberta on average, injuries take the lives of five Albertans every day, making it the leading cause of death in our province for people up to 44 years of age.

Dr. Bill Sevcik, emergency chief at the University of Alberta Hospital, said many of the trauma related injuries he sees are preventable, whether they're from texting, driving or riding ATVs without a helmet. 

It hit him one winter while he was at work. A 19-year-old man was brought into the hospital after a vehicle rollover. The teen had been drinking, but decided to get behind the wheel. He didn't wear his seatbelt, and didn't survive the crash.

After that Dr. Sevcik decided he had to get involved with injury prevention.

"The stark reality is injury and trauma disproportionately affect the youngest, most vibrant populations in our society, " said Sevcik. "It's the number one killer in the first four decades of life in Canada."

For victims and those that survive a traumatic event, "they can have lifelong consequences, and it can be devastating and it can destroy lives."

'Injuries are a major problem in Alberta'

Last year over 385,000 people were treated in an Alberta emergency room as a result of an injury. A total of 1,740 of those people died, while nearly 7,500 of the injured suffered permanent partial disability.

Those numbers are too high, according to the Injury Prevention Centre's director Don Voaklander. He said Alberta is spending $4 billion dollars annually on injury-related costs, money that he feels could be diverted to other resources and programs if people would make prevention more of a priority.

"Injuries are a major problem in Alberta and we'd really like to bring that level of injury down," said Voaklander.

While he praised the province for positive steps like introducing a farm and ranch safety bill and for helmet legislation for ATVs, the government can do much more, he argued.

"We did have a comprehensive injury prevention strategy from about 10 years ago that fell off the table due to changes in government and changes in premiers," Voaklander said. "We'd like to resurrect that and work across ministries to help save money, save lives and bring Alberta into the same injury reduction that other provinces have enjoyed."