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Patty Kleban: Lessons to be Learned Following Fall From Five-Story Window

by on October 29, 2012 6:22 AM

It was another Penn State story in the national news but this time it had nothing to do with the scandal. “Penn State Cheerleader in serious condition after five story fall.”

This time, it wasn’t about NCAA sanctions or an alleged cover-up. This time it was a parent’s worst nightmare. A 19 year old Penn State student attends a party in a downtown State College high rise and somehow ends up falling out the window. Her friends, her family and her fellow cheerleaders are asking for prayers. Fundraising efforts to support her recovery are underway.

How much information is the public entitled to when an incident like this happens in our community?

The rumor mill has been alive with stories. She was dancing on a table too close to a window when the table collapsed. She was intoxicated. Witnesses left the scene out of fears of an underage arrest. The window and screen were defective.

One of our own is in the fight of her life with a traumatic brain injury. Does it matter how she got there?

Some will say no. Some will argue that there can be no greater consequences of what happened that night than the long and bumpy road to recovery that this beautiful young woman and her family and friends are now facing. Many will say that kids will be kids and that, despite the tragic outcome, her decisions that night were typical of many college students. They say that her right to privacy makes the specifics of the incident none of our business.

Others will say that the public has a right to know about the incident, particularly if a crime or crimes have taken place. Some have pointed to other accidents or underage drinking incidents that received considerable coverage in the press as the rationale for sharing the private details. It will be argued that her family’s public statements, updates through social media and the organized support means we are entitled to know.

In the end, how she got there will make little difference in the months, if not years, of rehabilitation and recovery that that she is now facing.

As a faculty member, I know that we lose too many kids each year to accidents and decisions made by young people that change lives in a split second. As a parent, it brings to mind my own fears about the safety of my children.

As a mother, my thoughts go to her parents and siblings. I put myself in their shoes.

I have been the family member or friend who sat vigil, waiting for news after an injury or accident, hoping for signs that things were going be okay. The pain of not knowing and the uncertainty about the future can be almost too much to take.

From the time they are born, we are focused on protecting our kids and keeping them safe. We don’t microwave their bottles because of hot spots. We put plugs in the outlets to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. Car seats. Seat belts. Bike helmets. We take them for regular check-ups and to see the doctor when they are sick or injured. We ask about their friends, where they are going and make sure they have a curfew. We tell them not to smoke or drink or run with a lollipop or with scissors. We lay awake and wait for them to come home when they take the car alone for the first time.

We send them off to college with a sigh of relief and with the knowledge that they are ready to face the world.

We try not to think about the date rape drug or alcohol poisoning. Peer pressure. Cyberbullying. We don’t think about the loneliness and anxiety that leads some to self-injurious behavior. We sometimes forget that their decision making, problem solving and impulse control has not reached full maturity. We celebrate their victories and support them through their disappointments. When our phone rings at night, we hope it’s a wrong number.

We don’t think about car accidents on canning weekends or drunken falls on the way home from a fraternity party.

We don’t think about five story windows.

I have found myself thinking of Paige since her accident. I have never met her but she could be any of the kids who sit in our classes, shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, or wear the blue and white of Penn State.

The Penn State community has a tradition of taking care of our own. Our community has an amazing way of channeling our collective energy when someone is hurting. Please join me in sending good thoughts and prayers to Paige Raque and her family and friends. Let this tragedy be a teachable moment for our young people. I wish her a full and speedy recovery.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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