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Play It Safe Celebrates Five Years of Prevention

  • Category: Media Release
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Melanie Zaffuto

Hundreds of families came together at Cate Square Oct. 19 to participate in Operation Life 5K and Play It Safe.

Sponsored by North Oaks Health System, the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency (LOPA) and nearly 40 community partners, the events served to increase awareness about organ and tissue donation and injury prevention.

Now in its second year, Operation Life jumpstarted the day with a 5K through Downtown Hammond.

Jessica Puissegur participated in the 5K with the team, “It’s OK to Not be OK—In Memory of Alan Varnado,” for the second year. Puissegur, who is Varnado’s sister, explained that the team of 25 family members and friends participated in her brother’s memory as a way to honor him for being a “silent hero” and to break the stigma associated with depression and anxiety from which he suffered.

“Unfortunately, he lost his battle with anxiety and depression, but he lives on now in a spectacular way,” Puissegur shared. “Through the act of organ and tissue donation, four people were given a chance at life thanks to my hero, my brother. Our joy during a really, really hard time was knowing that Alan helped save the lives of others.”

Ultimately, saving lives also is the goal of Play It Safe, according to North Oaks President/Chief Executive Officer Michele Sutton.

Sutton explained, “Six years ago, we were approached by the state to establish a trauma program. What we quickly came to realize was that most of the injuries we were treating were preventable. So we thought why not put together an event to teach people how to keep their families safe? And now it’s our fifth year of hosting Play It Safe, and we love knowing we are improving lives.”

Play It Safe organizers transformed Cate Square into “zones” focused on safety in the home, sports, outdoors and motor vehicles. Each zone highlighted hands-on safety and injury prevention activities.

Zones also were offered for refreshments and fun, including a coloring contest, won by Madeline Brown of Maurepas, Brinley Locascio of Ponchatoula and Lucia Mendez of Abita Springs; and a bike giveaway, won by Hayden Rodrigue and Rhett Thompson of Ponchatoula.

Mendez’ father, Pablo Mendez, shared that her favorite Play It Safe activity was the “Safety City” course sponsored by the City of Hammond and the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center.

Mendez watched on as Lucia and her sister scooted through the child-size replica of Historic Downtown Hammond on bikes more than 10 times under the watchful eyes of children’s museum playologists who helped them navigate the traffic signs.

“She also loved watching the K-9 demonstrations provided by Louisiana Search & Rescue, Animal Care Center & Pet Care Center and the Hammond Police Department,” Mendez added.

For coloring contest winner Locascio, the highlight of Play It Safe was a visit to North Oaks Nutritional Services booth in the home zone. Her mother, Sarah Locascio, noted that her daughter enjoyed picking out food and discovering which were healthy choices.

A North Oaks Foundation grant made it possible for more than 200 children to receive free bike helmets at the event, which were carefully fitted by Dr. Juan Martinez of North Oaks Primary Care in Hammond and Dr. James Nelson, who is vice president of the North Oaks Foundation. Both are cycling enthusiasts.

The North Shore Regional Safety Coalition and its partner Operation Lifesaver Louisiana also were on hand to help reinforce proper traffic signage identification. After the children were guided through an explanation of the specific signs for railroad crossings, bicycle lanes and roundabouts to name only a few, they were able to create their own edible stoplight out of graham crackers, icing and various colors of candy-coated chocolates.

“Our mission is to reduce traffic-related fatalities and injuries, so in that respect, we share the same goals as the North Oaks Trauma Center,” noted Nelson Hollings of the North Shore Regional Safety Coalition. “Events like Play It Safe are beneficial because they start the prevention conversation at a young age through fun activities that foster a culture of safety.”

Fun Zone partners included: Academy Sports & Outdoors; Albany Table & Chair Rentals; Alpha Omicron Pi Fraternity; Kajun 107.1 FM; Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers; Sign Gypsies; Southeastern Spirit; and Tangipahoa Parish Government.

Home Zone partners included: Hammond Veterans Memorial American Legion Post #05; North Oaks Nutritional Services; North Oaks Pediatric Clinic, LLP; North Oaks Primary Care; Pelican State Credit Union; Tangipahoa Communications District #1/Tangi 911; and Tangipahoa Parish Students Against Drunk Driving.

Sports and Outdoors Zone partners included: Animal Care Center & Pet Care Center; Cricket Wireless; Jennifer Laurent with ISR Northshore; Louisiana Search and Rescue K9 Team; North Oaks Rehabilitation Services; and the Tangipahoa Mosquito Abatement District.

Snack Zone partners included: Domino’s; Kiwanis Club of Hammond; Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency; and Post-Acute Medical Specialty Hospital of Hammond.

Wheel Zone partners included: Alexis Ducorbier Insurance Agency; City of Hammond; Louisiana Children’s Discovery Center; the North Oaks Education Department and Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians; North Oaks Foundation; North Oaks Shock Trauma; North Shore Regional Safety Coalition; and Operation Lifesaver Louisiana.

Tour Your Favorite Rescue Wheels exhibitors included: Acadian Ambulance Services; Hammond Fire Department; and the Hammond Police Department.

North Oaks Medical Center’s Level II Trauma Center is one of eight trauma centers in the state. It has trauma surgeons in-house at the hospital 24/7 to attend to victims suddenly stricken by serious traumatic injury. The hospital’s Trauma Center serves patients in Region 9, which includes Tangipahoa, Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany and Washington parishes.