Longtime Ames sweet corn seller Sierra DesPlanques is in a coma after a crash Monday
Sierra DesPlanques started helping at her family’s sweet corn stand in Ames when she was 14 years old. She spent many summer days at the stand on the corner of 13th Street and Grand Avenue.
Now 22, Sierra was headed to Fort Dodge with a truck full of sweet corn Monday when she was in a crash that resulted in her being sent by life-flight helicopter to Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, where she is in the critical care unit.
She has a broken jaw and three fractures to her skull, the most serious of which is a basal skull fracture. A surgery to repair her jaw went well, her father Kevin DesPlanques said Thursday morning. She remains in a coma that is medically induced but is also a result of her injuries, he said.
“She’s been unconscious since she got here,” Kevin said from the hospital. “They’ve sedated her to keep her still, but she’s also unconscious due to her injuries.”
On Wednesday, doctors lowered Sierra’s sedation for a short time. Kevin asked her to open her eyes, and she did open her eyes a little bit. It was a small reaction that offered hope.
“That was a good sign, and the fact that her brain swelling is going down instead of up is huge as well,” Kevin said Wednesday evening. “The doctors say that typically the swelling on severe head injuries can keep going for six or seven days.
“This has been the longest few days of my life.”
An MRI Thursday morning showed significant brain damage, possibly indicating a loss of vision and hearing on one side, Kevin said Thursday afternoon. Damage to Sierra's cerebellum could indicate future challenges to her fine motor skills.
She loves to play the guitar but the injury to her cerebellum could impact that, her dad said.
Kevin describes his daughter as a “one-of-a-kind, brilliant girl.”
“She writes a lot of poetry and songs and plays the guitar," Kevin said. “She’s very artistic. I’m a full-time artist, so I hope she got a little bit of that from me.”
Kevin’s medium for his art is wood, and although Sierra has helped him with some art pieces, he doesn’t think woodworking is what she wants to pursue.
“She did most of the work on one of my rocking chairs a few years ago, though, and she did a wonderful job on it,” he said.
A seatbelt would have made a big difference
Kevin has been selling sweet corn at the corner of 13th Street and Grand Avenue every summer for the past 24 years. Sierra started assisting him there when she was 14.
“So she’s been at that corner quite a bit over the years,” he said.
Sierra wanted to make some money this summer so she could start college in the fall at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
“I told her that I would let her use one of my trucks and give her a corn stand to go to. She was driving to Fort Dodge on Monday when she had the crash,” Kevin said.
The one-vehicle crash occurred at about 7:30 a.m. Monday. Sierra was traveling westbound near Woodward on Iowa Highway 141 near T Avenue when she lost control, and her vehicle entered the median and overturned.
Kevin was packing for a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, when he got the call from the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office.
When he first got the call, he didn’t think Sierra’s injuries were as serious as they turned out to be. She was conscious at the accident scene, but that was dangerous because she was in shock and moving around while having those serious fractures.
“She didn’t want them to put collars on her and put her on the backboard, which was understandable when she was in shock. I’m really saddened by this — she wasn’t wearing her seatbelt,” he said. “If she’d worn her seatbelt, she’d just be bruised up.”
Kevin was in law enforcement for several years in Colorado and learned respect for wearing seatbelts, he said, from going to accident scenes. He’s tried to instill that need for a seatbelt, “but she’s young and sometimes your kids just don’t listen.”
Kevin DesPlanques has been in the sweet corn business since 1974
Kevin and Sierra both live in Durango, Colorado, but Kevin’s roots are in Iowa.
“I grew up in central Iowa, and my dad and I started growing and selling sweet corn in 1974. For a while, we probably had the largest sweet corn operation in central Iowa,” he said.
In 1999, their neighbor Ray Christenson, who owns Grimes Sweetcorn, started planting the DesPlanques farm. At that time, Kevin and his dad, Donald DesPlanques, started selling it.
At 83, Donald is still in the business and was working the Johnston stand on Wednesday. Sierra’s crash occurred on his birthday.
“This has really taken the wind out of my sails. I’m not sure if I’m going to sell corn anymore. It’s not worth this kind of sacrifice,” Kevin said. “There’s no amount of money I can make to make this seem right.
“I encouraged my daughter to do this because I think it teaches a little bit of the work ethic that my dad and I have. But she shouldn’t have been driving a big truck of corn by herself.”
The sweet corn business isn’t easy, Kevin said. It requires long, hard hours.
“But Ames has been so good to me. The people of Ames have been so supportive of my business and I've met so many great people,” he said. “Every year, I’ve got a few people working with me and they all fight over who gets to sell in Ames.”
Fundraising has started to help with Sierra's medical costs
Sierra’s brother, Keenan DesPlanques, has started a GoFundMe page to help raise money for his sister’s medical care. Kevin noted that the fundraising site has a default setting giving a 15% tip to the GoFundMe company, but changing the setting on the sliding sale during the donation process can change that.
"We don't know the full extent of her injuries yet and we are taking things one day at a time," Keenan wrote in a post on the GoFundMe page. "We do know that she has had potentially life-changing injuries to her brain. She has a very long road to recovery and many expenses that she simply can’t afford."
Kevin will be giving Sierra all the money raised at the Ames stand this Saturday and Sunday.
“She’s going to need it. She’s not going to be able to work for who knows how long,” Kevin said.
Donald’s stand in Johnston, at Grinnell State Bank, will also accept donations.
“The people who run Grimes Sweetcorn have stands all over Des Moines, and they’re going to accept donations too,” Kevin said.
Ronna Faaborg covers business and the arts for the Ames Tribune. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.