Wear your helmet even in winter

Jennifer Ritter and Eric Ochoa educate kids on the importance of wearing a helmet in the winter.

Northern Michigan winters are long and offer plenty of snow, and while some people grow tired of it, winter gives kids a chance to get out and enjoy the season. But something people usually think of wearing in the summer can be a real life-saver in the winter as well.

Eric Ochoa is an active high school freshman. He plays basketball, tennis, and baseball and enjoys hunting and fishing too. About two years ago he was practicing with the Grand Traverse Ski Club Middle School Race team at Crystal Mountain when he was injured in an accident. The run was icy and while going through a sharp turn, Eric lost control and ended up in the trees.

"All I really remember is waking up in the hospital and asking my mom 'where are we?" Ochoa said. "She said there's been an accident and that we're going to need to be here for a while."

Eric has a long list of injuries from that accident including a broken femur, fractured wrist, dissected right carotid artery, bone fractures in his head and more. He spent 14 days total in the hospital and ended up losing sight in his right eye. Even with all of these injures, Eric's helmet saved his life.

Now Eric is telling his story to other kids through the Chill Out for Winter Safety Program, a partnership between Kohl's 4-Season Safety and Munson Medical Center. Now Eric's story is helping them understand how important it is to wear a helmet when you're participating in winter activities.

"I feel like I need to spread the word based on my decision on wearing one and it definitely saved my life and it could save yours," Ochoa said.

Jennifer Ritter is the Injury Prevention Educator for the program, and says she's seen success with the program. Having support from Eric also helps the message, and younger kids look up to him.

"We start really young because when you instill those behaviors young it just becomes second nature to those kids," Ritter said.

Ritter says the program never discourages kids from being active, just safer. Eric hopes that if his message stays with the kids, he's doing something right: "Wearing a helmet is cool."

If you'd like to know more about the Chill Out for Winter Safety Program, you can click here for information.