Crash survivor tells story of the power of good, bad decisions

Sarah Panzau

Sarah Panzau

Inspirational speaker Sarah Panzau will encourage Hamilton County students to make smart choices at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Fishers High School, 13000 Promise Rd. Panzau will deliver her Living Proof presentation to students and parents, which details the pattern of poor choices that finally caught up with her. The event is being sponsored by Prevail.

In the early morning hours of Aug. 23, 2003, Panzau’s car – and her life – spun out of control. With a blood-alcohol level nearly four times the legal limit, the 21-year-old decided to drive home drunk, missed a highway exit and rolled her car four times. She wasn’t wearing a seat belt and was ejected through the rear window of her car, her left arm was torn from her body and she was thrown onto the roadway.

The next thing Panzau remembers, she was in the hospital being told that she had lost her arm. She remained hospitalized for several months and endured more than 30 surgeries.

Panzau recognizes it was a series of poor choices that led up to that tragic night and hopes others will learn from her mistakes. She started speaking to students because, until the crash, she was in their shoes; invincible and with the world ahead of her.

“Not only did my poor decisions to hang with the wrong crowd, get involved with drugs and drive drunk forever change my life, it also changed the lives of everyone around me,” Panzau explains. “Every time I speak to students, I want them to understand the importance of making good decisions and how choices have consequences – sometimes for a lifetime.”

Through the Living Proof presentation, Panzau encourages students to look out for each other and reminds them to seek help, if needed. She also touches on the difficulties she has encountered as a result of her disabling injury, including a lack of social acceptance. She relates that before the crash, she was the pretty, popular girl with whom everyone wanted to be friends. Now that she is technically considered disabled, people treat her differently. Panzau encourages students not to let physical disabilities bias their thinking and to show tolerance and acceptance of others.

Living Proof is sponsored by Anheuser-Busch and Parents in Partnership, additionally supported by the Hamilton County Council on Alcohol and Other Drugs, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, Hamilton County Judges, Hamilton County Prosecutors Office and Prevail, Inc. as part of the commitment to help prevent underage drinking and drunk driving.

“Sarah provides a powerful message that truly resonates with students,” says Lori Starr of Parents in Partnership. “Not only does she tell them about the importance of making good decisions, not to drink when underage and never drive drunk, she also teaches about the value of family and the important role these relationships play in the lives of young adults.”