For Mallori DelFiandra, life was sweet.
"I was going to night school, working at the store at The River."
By day, she dipped strawberries at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Rancho Mirage. At night, DelFiandra was earning her degree in Special Education.
"I was just a regular 28 year old," DelFiandra recalls, "hanging out with my friends, you know, going out and having a good time."
That's what she was doing the night of January 22, 2012.
Mallori was in the front passenger seat, traveling north on Monterey in Palm Desert, when a driver blew through a stop sign on Magnesia Falls.
Her life changed in an instant.
"We were basically t-boned at my door by a drunk driver, who, I believe, flipped over his car."
That drunk driver -- Tyler Preston Kerber. Just barely 21 years old, and driving on a suspended license from a previous DUI.
"My phone rang and I went up to get it, and by the time I got there it hung up and I just thought it was a wrong number," explains Diane DelFiandra, Mallori's mom. "It's your worst nightmare, you think, this can't happen to me."'
Mallori wasn't moving. Her three friends only suffered minor injuries in the accident, and repeatedly called after Mallori, trying to wake her from comatose.
"I was unconscious, I don't remember ANYTHING," said DelFiandra. "I don't even remember my time in the hospital."
Mallori was rushed to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, only to face more trouble.
January 22nd was the night of a massive windstorm, closing most every road surrounding Downtown Palm Springs. The ambulance, and her parents, had trouble accessing the trauma center -- the closest one in the Coachella Valley.
The road to recovery was about to be rough.
"I had two radial fractures in my face, which I didn't find out about until a month after the accident. I had two completely broken teeth and two that were nicked and had to be shaved down."
DelFiandra continues, "I had two bulging disks in my neck, which might never go back to normal, so I have chronic neck pain. I had severely sprained collarbone. I had a lacerated liver, a punctured lung, oh -- and three broken ribs."
Four surgeries and many hours of rehabilitation later, Mallori almost filed for bankruptcy. Kerber, as well as her sober driver, did not have car insurance.
"I never feel sad about it," Mallori reflects, "I never thought, 'Why me?' I was just grateful I was alive."
In September, Kerber was sentenced to 6 months in jail, and three years probation. He is already free.
Nearly a year after the crash, Mallori says everything happens for a reason.
"Nothing but good things - literally nothing but positive things have come my way since the accident."
The DelFiandra daughter is now proud co-owner of her own shop, The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at the Promenade in Temecula. She is a certified Special Education teacher. She also met Joe -- the love of her life, and someone who understands.
"Because Joe is a Paramedic Firefighter, I knew he would understand the severity, or understand the situation better than most, probably," Mallori gloats.
Her parents say Mallori glows, she's happier now that Joe, and his dog Juno, are in her life.
"Joe was a keeper from the start," her mom says.
"Right now I am living in Murrietta with Joe," Mallori says with a smile, "Joe's is going to help make fudge, cook caramel, and do all of those things, and obviously staying with his job at North County Fire. We're just looking forward to whatever comes."
The DelFiandras are proud of their daughter, and encourage other parents dealing with a hard situation to keep looking ahead.
"Parents just have to realize the next day is going to be better. The next day is going to be better," Diane DelFiandra says, "Just look on the bright side of everything."
2012 may have started off with sirens, but for Mallori DelFiandra, it will end with a smile.
"I think if you are grateful for what you have, more great things come your way."
Author's note: Every day in America, another 27 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes. Fifty to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license (Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration FARS data, 2012.).
Drunk driving is completely preventable. Please talk to your kids and teens about the consequences before they get behind the wheel. For more information, and how to get involved in the movement against drunk driving, visit the local Mothers Against Drunk Driving website, at www.MADDRiverside.org.
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For Mallori DelFiandra, life was sweet.
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