Destiny Ballard, would you rather have died than survived the crash?

The question was chilling, a bit morbid.

Destiny Ballard, would you rather have died than survived the crash?

“Sometimes,” Destiny says as tears stream down her cheeks.

Destiny is 16 years old. She’s endured more surgeries, 12, than most will undergo in a lifetime.

Each day, she suffers chronic pain. It never subsides. If she doesn’t take medication, “it all hits the fan.”

“My back would hurt all day,” she says. “I will get shooting pains up and down my arms. There’s not a day that goes by where I have an amazing day like I used to.”





THE CRASH

The crash happened at 9:08 p.m. Nov. 21, 2008. It occurred on the on Bundschu Road in eastern Independence.

Destiny sat in the back seat on the passenger side. She was sitting next to her boyfriend at the time, Tyler. Her best friend, Jordin, was riding shotgun. Chance sat in the front, too.

James M. Crowley Jr. drove.

Crowley accelerated the maroon 1993 Cadillac DeVille, traveling 83 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone, according to officials.

They told Crowley to slow down.

The Cadillac crested a hill and became airborne, according to the crash report. Crowley lost control of the car.

“I saw him tense up and grip the wheel really hard,” Destiny says.

The DeVille smashed into the ditch, started rolling and smacked into a tree. The vehicle clobbered the tree 6 feet 5 inches above the ground, according to the report.





THE AFTERMATH

Destiny was ejected.

After the impact, her memories are sketchy. She recalls screaming. She recalls not being able to breath. And she recalls the excruciating pain.

The screams were so horrifying that they produced nightmares in others involved in the crash, Destiny says.

Tyler broke his neck and back in the crash.

Crowley shattered his back and is paralyzed from the waist down.

Jordin, Destiny’s best friend, was uninjured.

Destiny was taken by ambulance to Centerpoint Medical Center. Dyer accompanied her.

“I felt all of it,” Destiny said of the debilitating pain she suffered in the ambulance. “My legs. My knee. My neck. My collarbone. My left arm. My chest. It was all killing me. The pain was to the point where I was in and out of consciousness.”

Paramedics needed to resuscitate her on the way to the hospital.

She recalled medical staff at Centerpoint “picking glass” out of her skin and back of head. And she remembers a large tube stabbed in her chest, her body violently jerking and needing to be restrained.

“I remember tasting the blood and dirt in my mouth,” Destiny says.

The accident shattered Destiny’s left eye socket, nearly all her ribs, her collarbone, her left leg. She lacerated her spleen, ruptured a ligament in her left knee, and damaged nerves in her left arm.

If that wasn’t enough, the accident collapsed her left lung and ruptured three vertebrae in her back.

Her collarbone snapped so badly that the bones damaged nerves in the arm that will affect how her left hand moves for the rest of her life. She cannot clench that hand.

Destiny was transferred to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City and spent the next 62 days there.

Of the dozen surgeries, the worst was to cut open her back. Doctors performed a spinal fusion, inserting two, three-quarter-inch rods and 10 screws to repair the damage.

Amber Ballard has been by her daughter’s side since the crash. They’ve grown closer.

On a scale to one to 10, how bad was the pain, Amber asked her daughter during an interview with The Examiner.

“You need a bigger scale,” Destiny says. “It was awful.”





ANOTHER SURGERY

On Oct. 12, Amber and Destiny will travel to Chicago. Two days later, Destiny will be operated on again.

Destiny has median arcuate ligament syndrome, a complication stemming from the collapsed lung and back surgery. The syndrome blocks blood flow from the celiac artery to the lower organs.

“It causes her to be violently ill,” Amber says.

Powerful and expensive medications are preventing her from being severely ill.

In all, Destiny swallows 50 pills each day.

Doctors at Comer Children’s Hospital in Chicago will perform laser surgery repair the ligament to free up the celiac artery.

It’s a relatively new and specialized surgery. Doctors have done few of the surgeries.

The celiac artery is a major artery in the body and the surgery is risky. There’s a 50 percent chance the surgery will not fix the problem. But it’s a necessary risk, Amber says.

“She has a 95 percent mortality rate if she does not get this surgery,” Amber says. “Her organs will start shutting down because they’re not getting the necessary blood flow they need.”

Destiny has become desensitized by the numerous surgeries. “I’ve had so many that I’m kind of getting used to the whole idea of surgery,” Destiny says. “But it’s going to be harder because I’ll be away from my friends and won’t have them there after the surgery.”





THE COST

Amber’s health insurance through her job at Missouri Title Loan in Gladstone has paid for a portion of Destiny’s massive health bills. The bills have totaled more than $2 million. What insurance hasn’t paid for is more than $1 million.

“Honestly, I don’t even open the (health care) bills anymore,” Amber says. “I can’t pay them. What can I do?”





HER MESSAGE

Destiny is telling her story so other teenagers don’t drive recklessly.

“I don’t want kids to think they are invincible, because nobody is,” she says. “It’s such a hard road to go down. My life is not something you want. You want to be hanging out with friends and playing sports, not thinking about if you have doctor’s appointments that day.

“I know there are kids out there who are doing this,” Amber says of teenage reckless driving.

Destiny was 14 years old when the crash happened, a freshman at William Chrisman High School. Living a normal 16-year-old life has escaped Destiny. She would “give anything” to play softball again. Softball was her love. Destiny yearns to pick up her trumpet and play in the school band. But her left hand cannot grip the instrument.

The crash has robbed Destiny of the simple enjoyment of hanging out with friends at the mall.

“She gets wore out real easy,” Amber says. “Her back and her legs will be hurting.”

Destiny says she lost everyone who rode in the car that night.

“In 30 seconds, I lost four of my best friends,” Destiny says, “but nobody died in the wreck.”

Crowley, the driver, pleaded guilty in Jackson County Circuit Court to three felony counts of second-degree assault and was sentenced to five years of supervised probation.

The judge ordered Crowley to do 200 hours of community service, and to have no contact with the victims or their families except for a card sent to them on the anniversary of the crash.