Ames sweet corn seller making 'miraculous' recovery after Aug. 1 crash put her in a coma
Kevin DesPlanques was already waiting at the hospital when the air ambulance arrived bearing his daughter Sierra on Aug. 1. She had been in a truck crash near Woodward, and his heart sank as he saw the helicopter coming toward Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines.
“When I first saw Sierra that day, I had doubts about whether she was going to make it,” Kevin said Thursday. “She had open gashes in her scalp and on the side of her head, big gashes on her arms and legs. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever seen — seeing her in a coma with all those open wounds.”
Sierra DesPlanques had been driving a truck load of sweet corn to Fort Dodge when she crashed in the median near Woodward. A longtime seller at the Ames sweet corn stand at the corner of 13th Street and Grand Avenue, she was hoping to make some money with her own stand to help pay for college this fall. Now 22 years old, Sierra has been helping at the family’s Ames stand since she was 14.
The wreck left her with three skull fractures, including one to the base of her skull, a broken jaw, multiple broken bones in her face and several lacerations.
She was in a coma, which was partly a result of her injuries and partly induced by doctors to keep her comfortable and immobile as they assessed her brain injuries, her father said Aug. 4.
The days following the accident offered successes and disappointments.
A surgery successfully repaired her broken jaw.
Bleeding in the brain plateaued, which was great news.
On Aug. 3, Sierra opened her eyes for a little while when her sedation was decreased and her brain swelling was down.
On Aug. 4, an MRI showed more brain damage than hoped, leading to concerns about hearing, vision and dexterity.
The next day, she was awake for a few moments, nodded her head in response to a question from her dad and gave him a little smile before falling back to sleep.
That night, Sierra was awake for several minutes while her mom, Dana Shinn, read aloud to her. She squeezed her mom’s hand indicating she enjoyed it.
By Aug. 6, doctors took her off sedation but continued to treat her pain.
Aug. 8, she sat up in a chair. Two days later she went for a walk and was released to a regular room from intensive care.
Sierra showed reduced motor skills, but the fact that she was alive was key to family and friends.
Doctors removed Sierra’s trachea tube Aug. 17 and she was finally able to talk with her family.
“The progress she’s made is pretty miraculous,” Kevin DesPlanques said Thursday as he prepared to wrap up the summer’s sweet corn stand in Ames. His last day of the summer is Saturday.
On Wednesday, Sierra was transported by air ambulance to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, where she will continue her recovery. The neurorehabilitation and research hospital specializes in spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury rehabilitation.
“Craig Hospital is literally the very top facility in the nation for brain injuries. They only handle brain and spinal cord injuries,” Kevin DesPlanques said.
He plans to be there Monday when she undergoes surgery to her scalp. He lives in Durango, Colorado, and grew up in Johnston, Iowa.
In the days and weeks following Sierra’s crash, DesPlanques said he was overwhelmed by the generosity, support and prayers shared by people in the Ames community and the greater central Iowa area.
Kevin received more than $2,600 at the Ames sweet corn stand the weekend following the accident.
A GoFundMe account created by Sierra’s brother, Keenan DesPlanques, has raised nearly $12,000 toward a $20,000 goal.
“All we know is that this is a life-changing accident. She has a very long road to recovery and will be unable to financially support herself for a while,” Keenan wrote on the profile page.
In the week following Sierra’s accident, Kevin questioned whether he would continue to sell sweet corn in the future. But this week, his optimism was back and he mentioned his plans to be back in Ames next summer.
And he included Sierra in those plans.
Ronna Faaborg covers business and the arts for the Ames Tribune. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.