Atlanta, GA,
13:15 PM

An Ounce of Prevention

Through testimonials, public service announcements and other resources, Shepherd Center works to educate people on preventing injuries.

What better way to help prevent distracted driving than to hear a message from someone who has been injured as a result of it?

Karla Dougan was driving home from a friend’s house when she glanced down at her phone to read a text. When she looked back up, she was off the road. She overcorrected, causing her car to flip over three times. The high school student sustained a traumatic brain injury and spent time at Shepherd Center for rehabilitation. She tells her story in a gripping video public service announcement (PSA), urging teens to avoid doing what she did. As it concludes, she leaves viewers with this warning: “Never, ever look down. Ever.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States, and this testimonial is one of several cautioning teens about the risks of distracted driving, speeding and not wearing a seatbelt.

These PSAs are part of Shepherd’s innovative Injury Prevention Program. The PSAs illustrate the risks of certain behaviors to prevent catastrophic spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries caused by vehicle crashes, diving accidents, falls and other causes of injury.

“We call them ‘Injury Prevention Ambassadors’,” says Emma Harrington, Shepherd Center’s director of injury prevention and education. “We’ve found that peer-to-peer messaging is very effective. Scare tactics do not work.”

Aside from the PSAs, Shepherd Center also provides injury prevention education to schools, universities and workplaces through school visits, curriculum guides, and community resources and programs.

Shepherd Center’s Injury Prevention Program was created in 2012 through generous donations from the late Tommy Malone, founder of Malone Law, and Jim Butler, a founding partner at Butler Wooten & Peak LLP. The two personal injury attorneys saw first-hand the effects of catastrophic injuries and wanted to help prevent them.

“People need to be educated on the risks of certain behaviors, like riding on all-terrain vehicles, not wearing seatbelts and diving into water,” says Jim, who has seen the devastating results of these types of injuries. “Education can drastically reduce these injuries. It’s really the key to prevention.”

Tommy passed away in 2019, but his son Adam, now at the helm of Malone Law, is keeping his father’s legacy alive.

“The law in the area of personal injury has two objectives,” Adam says. “The first is to help people put their lives back together after a devastating and life-changing injury. The second, and often overlooked objective, is to deter harmful conduct and prevent disasters in the first place. My dad and I felt that if preventable disasters could be reduced, there is no better spokesperson for bringing awareness to this issue than the nation’s leading rehabilitation hospital and a few of the nation’s most experienced personal injury lawyers. This shared common interest produced Shepherd Center’s Injury Prevention Program and our passion for supporting it. Given our common interests, it only makes sense to work together.”

The program is dynamic — constantly evolving and changing as needed to keep on top of the latest trends. For example, as electric scooters — available to rent instantly in cities — rose in popularity, so did the number of injuries they caused. Harrington received a grant from the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to develop a safety education program around scooters.

“We are not looking to eliminate scooters, but increase protective factors for riders to make them safer when utilizing micro transportation,” Harrington says.

To start teenagers off on the right path when learning to drive vehicles, Shepherd Center has developed AutoCoach®, a free mobile app to help parents teach their teens to drive safely. A newer version of the app is now available to parents of teens with cognitive and physical disabilities. AutoCoach® was also funded by a grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. For younger children, the hospital plans to conduct regular child seat safety checks in the future to ensure car seats are correctly installed.

While Harrington is experienced in securing grants to subsidize some injury prevention programs, she is grateful for donor contributions, which give her an additional funding source.

“It’s amazing — and unprecedented — to have donor funding we can rely on,” Harrington says. “It prevents me from having to be exclusively dependent upon grants and has enabled me to be innovative and pivot to where the data leads me. I have the freedom and flexibility to provide the best preventive services available at the time.”

Joel Wooten, a colleague of Jim Butler’s and another founding partner at Butler Wooten & Peak, has also witnessed the aftermath of spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries. He is pleased his firm can support prevention efforts.

“Catastrophic injuries are life-altering, not only for the individual, but also for the entire family,” Joel says. “It would be great if we never had another spinal cord injury case because of an injury.”

For more information, visit Shepherd Center’s Injury Prevention Program website:


If you are interested in contributing to Shepherd Center’s Injury Prevention Program, please contact Jen Swindall at Shepherd Center Foundation: or 404-350-7301.


Written by Sara Baxter

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.