"For the second time in less than a month, Chicago-area high school students became ill Tuesday during realistic and graphic presentations on the dangers of drunken driving. Three students at Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove Village were taken to Alexian Brothers Medical Center after saying they felt faint. . . . Last month, eight students at St. Patrick High School on Chicago's Northwest Side fainted during a presentation."
Since 1995 Marti Belluschi has been speaking to teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving. Belluschi, the first executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Illinois, estimates that over the years around 300 people have fainted during her presentations.
Q: What do you say that makes them faint?
A: When I speak to high school students, I tell them what happened when I was 15, when my father and I were hit by a drunk driver. On impact I hit the windshield, which shattered my skull. I continued through the windshield up to my shoulders. Then it got really ugly. I whiplashed back and caught my jaw on the glass. As I fell further back, the glass cut deep in my face. My teeth went through my lip and cut it off. My nose was smashed. All the blood was going into my lungs, so I was gasping for air. In addition to all the injuries to my face and head, I'd also broken my femur.
I was in the operating room for six hours. After six hours they covered me up with a sheet and said to my mother, if you want to know that Marti's alive you can touch her hand, but we don't want you to see what she looks like. I was in a coma for five days, and I was in the hospital, in one bed, for two and a half months.
Q: Who faints?
A: I would say 95 percent of the people who've fainted are boys. Last year I spoke at a suburban school, and seven people fainted. In some rural town a boy fainted and then his mother fainted. At another rural school they had me in a classroom by myself. I said sometimes students faint, someone should be there watching these kids, and they're like, no, these are farm kids, they never faint. Two of them fainted. One of the more interesting faints was at Notre Dame High School in Niles. They had cameras on this platform, and the student cameraman, the tripod, the camera--everything--just falls off the platform.
It actually helps my presentation when someone does faint, because students are very alarmed when their friends faint. I think it reminds them that this is very serious stuff, and it can be very frightening.
Generally it's just one or two people who faint. We try not to let it disrupt everything. At Saint Patrick's it was unusual because it was a large group of people. Someone fainted in the back right corner, and you could see adults going to that area. Then someone fainted in the left center, so you could see adults running over there. And then someone else fainted. It just got out of hand. I would say within ten minutes 15 people fainted. The principal finally said, Marti, just stop talking.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joeff Davis.