Mary Ciammetti, whose 20-year-old son died from alcohol poisoning in 2015, recently spoke to students at Chestnut Hill College about the tragic consequences of binge drinking as part of her education initiative, “Don’t Stall, Just Call.”
The event, held at the College on Jan. 23, featured a speech and presentation by Ciammetti, the founder of the nonprofit CTC Wellness Foundation and creator of “Don’t Stall, Just Call.”
Ciammetti established “Don’t Stall, Just Call” after her youngest son, Christian, a junior landscape architecture major at Temple University, died from alcohol poisoning in 2015 at the age of 20. The goal of the program is to educate young people on the dangers of binge drinking, the warning signs of alcohol poisoning and the steps one can take to quickly help someone affected by it.
“‘Don’t Stall, Just Call’ was created out of the tremendous grief we felt after losing our son in an unimaginable way — from binge drinking,” Ciammetti said. “We established the program in hopes that no other families would ever have to endure or stand in our shoes — losing a child because of lack of education.”
In 2015, after a night of excessive drinking, Christian returned to his off-campus apartment, exhibiting all the telltale signs of alcohol poisoning. His roommates believed he was simply drunk and needed to sleep it off, so they put him to bed, occasionally checking on him throughout the night. The following morning, however, they found Christian unresponsive, cold to the touch and blue. When numerous attempts at resuscitation by CPR failed, they called for emergency help. Christian was rushed to Temple University Hospital and placed on life support. Seven days later, he died.
Ciammetti said she was perplexed by the circumstances surrounding her son’s death.
“I didn’t go to work for six weeks,” she said. “During that time, I kept asking myself: ‘How did this happen? What went wrong?’”
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that raises a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 g/dl. This occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men within the span of two hours. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include stumbling, mumbling, being cool to the touch or blue in color, unresponsiveness and, often but not always, vomiting.
According to the NIAAA, nearly 60 percent of college students reported binge drinking in the prior month. Each year more than 1,800 students between the ages of 18 to 24 years old die from alcohol-related injuries, including car accidents. Yet alcohol poisoning affects all age groups; middle-aged men actually have the highest rate of death due to alcohol poisoning.
The statistics disturbed Ciammetti — even more so because she felt it wasn’t being discussed openly or nearly enough. She said that many people, including adults, think that drinking heavily and partying regularly is a normal part of the college experience, a rite of passage for young people. This line of thinking, she believes, prevents both students and adults from learning the serious risks attached to binge drinking.
“Not many people talk about binge drinking and alcohol poisoning, but I’m going to talk about it, and I’m not going to stop talking about it until our young people stop dying such senseless deaths,” Ciammetti said.
To distinguish whether someone is unresponsive or asleep, Ciammetti said to pinch the person’s earlobe or rub a fist up and down on his or her sternum. If they do not respond, lay the person on their side to prevent aspiration and call for emergency help. In fact, if anyone believes there is even a slight chance that someone may have alcohol poisoning, Ciammetti urged students to immediately dial 911.
One of the reasons that students, particularly underage drinkers, sometimes hesitate to call for help is because they are afraid of getting in trouble with authorities, Ciammetti said. But in many states, including Pennsylvania, medical amnesty policies grant legal immunity to those calling for help. Similar policies have been adopted on college campuses around the country.
The only way to prevent more deaths due to alcohol poisoning and binge drinking is through education and awareness, Ciammetti said. To date, she and the “Don’t Stall, Just Call” team have spoken to more than 15,000 people at colleges, high schools, churches and other organizations. Saving lives is now her mission, and she believes it is Christian’s mission, too.
Once, when Christian was a sophomore, he showed his mother the landscape architecture at Morgan Hall in Philadelphia. Ciammetti asked him if that was what he was going to do one day.
“Nope — even better,” Ciammetti recalled Christian saying.
Ciammetti believes her son has stayed true to his word.
“I think Christian was meant to be more than a landscape architect, and he has been — he’s saving lives,” she said.
For more information, please visit www.dontstalljustcall.org.