Students were even talking about it on Facebook

Hello Kay!

I just wanted to follow-up with you and Don regarding the assembly that we had a few weeks ago.

We received nothing but positive feedback. Students were even talking about it on Facebook. One student told me that she was quitting immediately after seeing the assembly. It’s always been my motto that, even if it only impacts one student, it was worth it, and Don was able to accomplish that.

Thank you very much for providing such an amazing assembly at a price that schools can afford.

Best wishes,

Melinda S Botkin
Orchard Farm R-V High School


Throat cancer survivor scares smoke out of youth


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Don Young, 66, is a man on a mission to direct teens and young adults to refrain from smoking. His methods are scary, but they work.

“I’m compelled to tell my story and make young people afraid to smoke,” said Young, who lives in St. Charles.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is the single leading preventable cause of death in the nation, and each day, about 4,000 American youth aged 12-17 smoke their first cigarette.

Determined to change those statistics, Young presents thought-provoking programs at area schools, colleges, churches, youth organizations, public forums, medical schools and corporations, sharing his cancer experience with more than 40,000 people per year.

Young started smoking at age 14 and in 1992, at the age of 48, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, caused by 34 years of a two-pack-a-day smoking habit.

A series of operations and treatments saved Young’s life but left him unable to speak. He is unable to breathe or talk normally through his nose or mouth; a hole in his throat that opens directly to his lungs (a tracheotomy) allows him to breathe. To speak, he must use an electronic voice box, which produces a robot-like speech pattern. To eat and drink, Young inserts a two-foot tube down his throat every morning to dilate the opening.

It is said a picture is worth a 1,000 words, and Young’s photo presentations say it all, vividly illustrating his story in graphic detail, as Young documented the course of his illness by photographing his surgeries and treatments.

His programs are intended to shock, and they do.

Kathleen Graham, who teaches at St. Charles High School, connected with Young through her classes on peer facilitating in which students are trained to help their classmates solve teen problems.

“It’s hard not to gush when talking about Don Young,” Graham said. “He is a wonderful human being who genuinely cares about people, both young and old. Don hopes his story will warn others not to make his mistakes. He has been through so much, and it’s a miracle that he’s still alive. Students seem to truly respect his honesty, and he always commands their respect when he addresses them.”

Over the years, Graham said, she has seen many students attribute their decision to remain tobacco-free due to Young’s presentations.

Cancer-free since 1993, Young has garnered numerous honors and awards, including the 1997 St. Louis American Cancer Society “Volunteer of the Year.” He volunteers for many organizations, including the American Lung Association, the Tobacco-Free Missouri – St. Louis Coalition, the National Council of Alcohol & Drug Abuse and others that fight tobacco and drug use.

Amazingly, Young has participated in the Senior Olympics in track and field, javelin, jumping, shot put, and more. He carried the Senior Olympic Torch in St. Louis in 1996, 2000 and 2004. In 2000, he was named Coping magazine’s “Cancer Survivor of the Year.”

He continues to work with young people in sports, at church, at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and performing as a Shriners clown.

Through it all, Young aims to make a difference.

“I know not everyone will stop smoking, but some will, and that’s worth it,” he said.

By Sheila Frayne Rhoades

Article originally appeared on page 34 of the December 8, 2010 issue of Mid Rivers Newsmagazine. (Original Article)

“I am so glad you met Mike.”

Hi Don and Kay,

I am so glad you met Mike. We are hosting a quit tobacco class at Scroll now. One 28 year old man who chewed constantly quit the night after your presentation. All the others (seven 20-something boys, and two 40 year old mothers) in the class said Don Young presentation made them want to quit! I also heard that some of the past quit tobacco class participants have quit since your presentation.

I am still hearing from mothers who tell me about their children talking about your presentation.

Shirley Emerson

“Your presentation was the reason they wanted to quit.”


Don & Kay:

I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know that we are currently holding cessation classes again at Copeland. I have 2 men, ages 21 and 31, attending the morning session. They both said your presentation was the reason they wanted to quit. The 31-yr old told me this morning that he wouldn’t have even thought about quitting, but after your presentation, he got up, walked over and signed up for the classes. As of this morning, he has not smoked since Saturday.

Just wanted to pass that on. Hope you all are well.

Sonya Hodges
Health Educator

Finding His Voice – Don Young speaks out about the dangers of smoking



All the doctors agreed — Don Young didn’t have long, maybe six months.

He’d been diagnosed with throat cancer, had his larynx removed in surgery and undergone several other procedures.

“They told me I wasn’t going to live,” he says.

That was in the early 1990s.

“I’ve been given a second chance, I think,” Young says.

And with that second chance, Young now speaks to groups of young people around the area about the dangers of smoking through a nonprofit he started, Young Choices —

In his presentations, he shows photos of himself in the hospital, often gory images that make kids physically sick. He isn’t trying to shock them, though.

“It’s just the reality.”

Peg Lee, who nominated Young in the Celebrate Your Neighbor contest, has known him and his wife, Kay, about 28 years.

“He has fought every inch of the way,” she says, “and he’s been an inspiration to so many people.”

Young, now 66, lives with his wife in St. Charles and together, Lee says, the two have dedicated their lives to anti-smoking issues, from advocating to visiting people suffering from cancer in the hospital.

In 2004, when her own husband had cancer, Young was there for them, Lee says.

“I saw then, I think, firsthand what a wonderful support he is for people dealing with those kinds of things.”

Young volunteers with the American Cancer Society, among other area organizations. He’s carried the Olympic torch in St. Louis three times and annually shares his story with about 40,000 people.

And he can tell that it’s made a difference. While Young credits what he’s been able to do to God, when he’s out, he often meets adults who remember hearing him speak as a child. They don’t smoke, they tell him.

And they credit him.

By Kristen Hare, Suburban Journals Correspondent

“I cannot thank you enough…”



Dear Don,

Good morning! I cannot thank you enough for talking to the freedom from smoking class that Washu and BJC have, last evening. I have been truly changed forever after hearing your story. I started smoking probably when I was 14 or so. I am not really sure exactly when I started, but I cannot remember a time when I did not smoke. I have tried to quit several times in the last year. I actually quit January 4th of this year. It truly is the hardest thing I have ever done. Everyday is a battle, but I am ready to quit and let smoking go, so I know I will do well.

After hearing your story,  I really realized how deadly and devastating smoking is, and it will give me that much more to stay an ex-smoker. Thank you for your time and your story. I just wanted you to know what an impact you had on me.

(Name Removed)
Washington University
Department of Pediatrics

Bayless Junior High Students Honored For Anti-Smoking Message


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With a message of “Smoking Kills,” students at Bayless Junior High in south St. Louis were recognized by the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine for their creative anti-smoking messages.

Students at the school were asked to design artwork and write an essay encouraging young people to be smoke-free as part of an annual art and essay contest for November’s “Great American Smokeout.” Seventh grader Cathy Vo and eighth grader Sabina Dizdar were first place winners of the Siteman-sponsored art contest “Keep Kids Tobacco Free.” The winning artwork was printed on t-shirts given to the school’s student body.

Eighth grader Donna Dinh was recognized at an assembly for her essay on “Why You Shouldn’t Smoke.” The essay was about her father who smokes and her plea for him to quit. “Hopefully this essay would help you to stay away from smoking or put an end to it,” she wrote.

St. Louis Rams linebacker Chris Chamberlain attended the assembly and signed autographs. He spoke about a former teammate at the University of Tulsa, who was among the most talented players he’d seen, but did not make the NFL due to his smoking habit. “It shows how destructive smoking can be,” said Chamberlain.

Sporting the winning t-shirt design, “Bayless Bronchos Don’t Need to 2 Smoke: We’re Already on Fire!” select students from Bayless Junior High attended the “Siteman Smokeout for Life” on Thursday, November 20 at Siteman Cancer Center.

Students received lunch and a tour of Siteman. The day included a health fair and an anti-tobacco presentation from Don Young of Young Choices, Inc., a local non-profit organization that advocates about the dangers of smoking. D’Marco Farr, former St. Louis Rams defensive tackle, met with students. Mr. Farr signed autographs and encouraged students to stay smoke-free.

“It’s exciting to know area children are knowledgeable about the dangers of cigarette smoking and interested in helping others ‘kick the habit,’” says Timothy Eberlein, MD, Siteman Cancer Center director.

* Source: STL Connection newsletter, Volume IV Issue I 2009, Program for the Elimination of Cancer Disparities.

Cigarette Smoking and Cardiovascular Diseases


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AHA Scientific Position
Cigarette smoking is the most important preventable cause of premature death in the United States. It accounts for nearly 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing several chronic disorders. These include fatty buildups in arteries, several types of cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (lung problems). Atherosclerosis (buildup of fatty substances in the arteries) is a chief contributor to the high number of deaths from smoking. Many studies detail the evidence that cigarette smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack.

How does smoking affect coronary heart disease risk?
Cigarette and tobacco smoke, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes are the six major independent risk factors for coronary heart disease that you can modify or control. Cigarette smoking is so widespread and significant as a risk factor that the Surgeon General has called it “the leading preventable cause of disease and deaths in the United States.”

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease by itself. When it acts with other factors, it greatly increases risk. Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery.

Cigarette smoking is the most important risk factor for young men and women. It produces a greater relative risk in persons under age 50 than in those over 50.

Women who smoke and use oral contraceptives greatly increase their risk of coronary heart disease and stroke compared with nonsmoking women who use oral contraceptives.

Smoking decreases HDL (good) cholesterol. Cigarette smoking combined with a family history of heart disease also seems to greatly increase the risk.

What about cigarette smoking and stroke and peripheral arterial disease?
Studies show that cigarette smoking is an important risk factor for stroke. Inhaling cigarette smoke produces several effects that damage the cerebrovascular system. Women who take oral contraceptives and smoke increase their risk of stroke many times. Smoking also creates a higher risk for peripheral arterial disease and aortic aneurysm.

What about cigar and pipe smoking?
People who smoke cigars or pipes seem to have a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease (and possibly stroke), but their risk isn’t as great as that of cigarette smokers. This is probably because they’re less likely to inhale the smoke. Currently there’s very little scientific information on cigar and pipe smoking and cardiovascular disease, especially among young men, who represent the vast majority of cigar users.

What about passive or secondhand smoke?
The link between seconhand smoke (also called environmental tobacco smoke) and disease is well known, and the connection to cardiovascular-related disability and death is also clear. About 22,700 to 69,600 premature deaths from heart and blood vessel disease are caused by other people’s smoke each year.

* Source: “Cigarette Smoking and Cardiovascular Diseases,” American Heart Association.