In the summer of 2009, 17-year-old Josh Field was a young man full of promise. A budding filmmaker, a talented drummer and a natural clown, Josh left a wake of laughter and love everywhere he went. In the fall, he was set to begin classes with Fanshawe College's Broadcast Television and Radio program where he would sharpen his natural talent for storytelling.
Then, one summer morning, a single phone call changed everything.
Josh was driving down Veteran's Memorial Parkway with a passenger, when the cellphone that he carried in the event of an emergency rang. As he reached into his pocket to pass the phone to his friend to answer, he lost concentration on the road. His vehicle drifted across the median and realizing what was happening, Josh turned the wheel too sharply, and the whole world turned upside down.
The vehicle rolled several times before landing in a ditch, where an off-duty emergency medical services (EMS) worker saw it and pulled over to help.
Though Josh's passenger had sustained only minor injuries, the impact ot the back of Josh's head was much more serious.
"Luckily, the off-duty paramedic managed to get his heart beating while EMS was called," says Josh's mother, Kathryn. "Upon arrival, the firefighters used Jaws of Life to get him out and the trauma team worked on him at the hospital, but, by the time we got there, they more or less knew that there was nothing they could do for Josh."
Shortly after arriving at LHSC's Children's Hospital Emergency Department, it became clear that there was no longer any activity in Josh's brain and he was pronounced brain dead. His devastated parents, Katheryn and Nigel, agreed to donate his organs.
"While some may wait for days (for organ recipients to be found), we only waited 14 hours, but during that time, you don't want to leave his bedside," says Kathryn. "We sat at the side of the bed all night, just waiting."
As the family reeled in grief and went through waves of shock, the medical team tried to comfort them. "Josh was treated with lots of love by the medical staff. The nurses and everyone were all very compassionate. They'd bring us cups of coffee or a snack - because we simply couldn't leave his side. It was a huge help because we weren't prepared for an overnight stay and didn't have anything with us, like spare change for coffee or a toothbrush. You're in such a rush to get to the hospital that you don't anticipate bringing anything; no one expects to be there."
After Josh was laid to rest, his family was left to find a way to cope with their unbelievable grief. They formed the Josh Field Support Network, an organization with a mission to provide comfort and support to those who are waiting, just as the Field's did, for their loved one's gift-of-life organ donation operation.
The family also decided to leverage the network and their personal story to help spread the word about the consequences of distracted driving. While the Fields were at LHSC giving out care packages for families who are waiting for their loved one's organ donation operation, Jane Harrington, Injury Prevention Specialist at LHSC, learned of their story.
"I think it was fate - we were looking for someone who could speak through our Impact program and there they were," she says.
LHSC Trauma Program's Impact program was formed 25 years ago, when staff working in LHSC's Emergency and Critical Care departments noticed a disturbing pattern of youth presenting with devastating injuries stemming from dangerous behaviours behind the wheel, such as drinking and driving.
"The original thought (behind Impact) was that something had to be done to stop needless injury and loss of life," says Harrington. "Hospital staff felt that if youth could see what the health-care team sees it would be a wake-up call."
Frontline staff got together with the Trauma Program and they formed the Impaired Minds Produce Actions Causing Trauma (IMPACT) program, which became funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and later, in 2007, also supported by Children's Health Foundation.
Throughout the school year, Impact program presenters from LHSC travel to regional high schools where they educate teens, 15-17 years old, about the medical consequences of high-risk behaviour and on preventative strategies.
Students are later invited to tour the Emergency and Critical Care departments at LHSC, a Middlesex London EMS ambulance and then travel to St. Joseph's Health Care London's Parkwood Hospital, to continue the journey of a trauma patient into rehabilitation. Throughout the day, students have the opportunity to participate in experiential learning activities and interact with staff, patients and families who have been injured as a result of preventable injuries.
Through Impact, Josh's younger sister Meg has travelled to local schools to tell Josh's story in hopes of opening the teens' eyes to how a single moment of distraction can change the lives of a family forever.
"We often see some pretty emotional responses, especially when students see how someone's actions have deeply impacted an entire family," says Harrington, who recalls participating in the program herself when she was in high school. "I remember kids in my own class sliding down the wall in shock and grief after experiencing the reality of the situation."
"We found that presentations focused on personal experiences along with relevant video and images, is what resonated with the youth," says Harrington.
As a result of this feedback, a YouTube video was created to document the Field's experience.
In only a few short months, the video, called Distracted Driving - Josh's Story, quickly climbed to almost 20,000 views.
Kathryn says that the interest in the story is encouraging, and the more education the public receives, the better.
"What makes us feel like we can get through each day is to give back and to try to help other people," says Katheryn. "It is a comfort to us to think that through organ donation, Josh lived on through other people. But also, it gives us comfort to go out there and spread the word about distracted driving - to do what we can to prevent it from happening to someone else, another family."