Bereaved Whitemarsh mother crusades to end binge drinking, educate about alcohol poisoning
Montgomery News By Brendan Wills October 5, 2015
Mary Ciammetti talks about her son Christian Oct. 1. Adrianna Hoff — 21st Century Media WHITEMARSH >> For Whitemarsh native Mary Ciammetti, losing her son to alcohol poisoning left her feeling like a leaf blown about by a wind that was out of her control. But the icy gust that took Christian, a student at Temple University, from her and her family, did not leave her lost. Instead, she has followed the path the wind has chosen for her: pouring her heart and soul into educating others so that no family, no community, will have to feel the pain she did. Standing at the pulpit of St. Philip Neri Church Oct. 1, Ciammetti laid her heart — and her plan — before a community of family, friends, fellow parents and their children. The simple words of that plan: “Don’t Stall, Just Call.” With that admonition in mind, Ciammetti has rallied her community to begin distributing bulletins and magnets that list the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, the college security phone number and a reminder about medical amnesty. The goal is to get Don’t Stall bulletins hung in college or university dorm rooms, residence halls and off-campus houses. The symptoms — stumbling, mumbling, passing out, being cool to the touch and vomiting — are listed just above the security phone number with a bright red reminder: Don’t Stall, Just Call. “What’s really important about all of this is that we, in the state of Pennsylvania, have medical amnesty,” Ciammetti said, noting that she wants to focus on the Delaware Valley to start, before moving out across the country. “It applies for underage drinkers. If someone is in an emergency situation involving drugs or alcohol, the student caretaker can make the call — either 911 or campus specific security phone number, the caller and the victim will not get in trouble for underage drinking. You won’t have your license taken away and all that.” The problem for a lot of students faced with the decision is the fear of getting their friend in legal trouble, or jeopardizing a collegiate sports team, Ciammetti said. A list of states with medical amnesty laws can be found on www.medicalamnesty.org, one of the resources listed on the Don’t Stall, Just Call website, www.dontstalljustcall.org. The two other prongs to the education initiative involve a social media campaign, and partnering with colleges to put educational videos that teach about binge drinking and alcohol poisoning, couple with testimonials from those that have saved lives and those that have lost loved ones. The social media campaign is a simple challenge to stop posting or liking pictures with drinks in hand. The glorification of alcohol is at the crux of the binge drinking problem, Ciammetti said, noting the number of photos on Facebook that young children see in which alcohol is center stage as the main event. “It’s this culture that is just creating alcohol as a god, an end-all for having a good time,” Ciammetti said, noting that to counter that movement people need to “start being mindful of what you are doing.” “We can change the culture of drinking one by one. You can’t make a whole room of people or a whole class of people change, but you can change yourself.” According to the Centers for Disease Control website, CDC.gov, there are more than 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States a year. Sharing statistics with the community gathered in the church, Ciammetti said 1,600 college-age students die from alcohol-related incidents each year and that in the past five years, 60 to 80 college age students have been admitted to Temple University Hospital with alcohol poisoning. So far, Ciammetti said, the volunteers working for Don’t Stall have been very successful in reaching students at Temple University, where administrators and students alike have embraced the challenge to educate others on the symptoms of alcohol poisoning. Various professors in the nursing program volunteer for Don’t Stall and were instrumental in helping Ciammetti meet with the heads of Temple’s programs, she said. Through that meeting, Don’t Stall was able to play a public service announcement at the Temple-Penn State football game that helped to spread the message and educate about alcohol poisoning. Ciammetti will be back at Temple presenting to students in the newly created Public Health classes and before the Delta Zeta sorority. Additionally, the dean of students at Chestnut Hill College expressed an interest to partner with Don’t Stall in distributing bulletins to their students and had offered to speak of the program at the Student Life Symposium Oct. 2. Ciammetti said she hopes representatives of other colleges at the symposium will get on board. For Ciammetti, when someone reaches out to support the program — like the Temple residence assistant who messaged her to thank her for her work this past week — it’s like getting a giant hug. “I just got a Facebook message from a parent this past weekend. Their child is a student at Fairfield. Their child made the call because her friend was exhibiting these symptoms and she thought of Don’t Stall, Just Call. And that’s what’s it all about: identifying the symptoms … it’s education.” Ciammetti has been in contact with other colleges, including Villanova University, to begin conversations about bringing Don’t Stall there. Don’t Stall has also come to Delaware University, where Christian’s friends Maria Finnegan and Alex Taylor attend classes, and Ciammetti is scheduled to speak before students involved in Greek life there. That kind of outpouring from the public is what has helped Ciammetti to follow the path when she did not know where it led. “Everyone has been so incredibly helpful and supportive in carrying me and holding me up for this, because everybody believes we need to educate kids. It really is happening. People don’t know,” she said. “Every time I ask for something, there’s an answer. Every time I need something and I don’t know what I’m going to do — somehow, some way, something gets put in front of me, someone does something for me, someone offers something to me. Someone is leading the way, because I don’t know how the heck I am doing it.” In addition to the Don’t Stall initiative, Ciammetti and the Don’t Stall board of directors are finalizing the paperwork to start the CTC Foundation for Alcohol Poisoning Awareness and Education. Anyone who wants to donate to the Don’t Stall initiative can do it through the foundation. All of the funds raised will go toward paying for the college-specific bulletins. Any parent or student that wants to distribute a bulletin with their school’s or their child’s school’s public safety phone number and their state’s version of the medical amnesty law is encouraged to contact the Don’t Stall team. “It could be anybody. And unfortunately it was our son. And we had no idea. I’m hoping that through education no other family, or community has to go through this,” she said “I do believe that there was a greater plan here. I am just following the path put out in front of me.” For more information on the initiative or to find out how to get the bulletin’s into the hands of students, interested parties can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.