The ultimate test that the Lord puts on a parent’s shoulder is that of sacrificing their child. For David and Melody Levine, their only daughter Kendal’s decision to serve a mission was something they were all excited about. However, Kendal’s mission would go far beyond a typical 18-month mission, it would change her life permanently when she was struck by a car in Canberra, Australia.
David and Melody Levines’ only daughter Kendal is a beautiful, strong, and funny young woman who has played sports since she was ten-years-old. She attended Stansbury High School where she was a five-sport lettermen athlete and loved being around other people. Once Kendal had graduated from high school, she planned on attending college on a full-ride basketball scholarship. Kendal’s future seemed bright and promising, yet Kendal felt as though something were missing from her life.
In a letter Kendal sent home to her parents while on her mission, Kendal confessed that she “was so lost and confused during my time at Casper [College]. Then when they changed the mission age, I just cried and cried and knew it was an answer to my prayers. One of the goals I had for my mission was to return home a completely different person; humbled and charitable. I didn’t like the person I was and I wanted and needed a change.”
She set aside her basketball scholarship, believing she would be more blessed in serving than in playing sports and received a call to the Australia, Sydney mission.
Struck by Car
On September 5th, 2014, Kendal Levine was serving in the town of Canberra, Australia. She had been serving her mission for over a year. That Friday had been extremely busy for Kendal and her companion, with every hour of the day filled with appointments or meetings except for 4:30 pm. While driving to their next appointment, Kendal and her companion pulled fifteen-feet off of William Crescent Road in order for Kendal to take a picture of a double rainbow that was over the valley.
Kendal and her companion had gotten out of the car and were at a small overlook point. Kendal had walked back to the car and opened her door when she was suddenly struck from behind by a drowsy driver. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and veered off the main road, striking Kendal with the front of his car at about 40 MPH. Kendal’s head shattered the front of the driver’s windshield and she was thrown 25 feet into the air like a ragdoll. When the driver was able to bring his car to a stop, he stopped on top of where Kendal had landed, the car’s bumper pinning her torso and legs to the ground.
At this point, miracles began to unfold for Kendal. Across the street from where Kendal was struck, an older woman had been outside her home and had noticed Kendal and her companion pull off the road. She had turned away for a moment, which is when Kendal got hit. When the woman heard the commotion, she looked back to see the car rolling on top of Kendal. The woman then screamed and her son, who had been inside the house, immediately came outside when he heard the commotion. Seeing what had happened, he ran across the street to where Kendal had been struck and knew that if he did not get the car off Kendal’s chest then she would most likely die.
He ran back to his garage and grabbed a car jack, something few people own, and ran back to Kendal, calling out for his mother to call an ambulance. The man was able to lift the car off of Kendal and she immediately aspirated and began breathing again.
The man then rolled Kendal into the recovery position, retrieved a blanket from his garage, and sat with Kendal until an ambulance arrived fifteen minutes later. Had the man not come to Kendal’s aid, Kendal would not have survived.
To the Hospital
Kendal was then taken to the nearest hospital with news of her accident spreading to the missionaries serving in the area, which resulted in many of the missionaries heading to the hospital to be with Kendal. Shortly after the EMT’s arrived at the hospital, there were seventeen missionaries, which included a senior couple, at the hospital waiting to hear news of Kendal. When the EMT’s were exiting the hospital, they told the group they were sorry for their loss, believing that there was no way that Kendal would survive the accident.
Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Kendal was given a priesthood blessing and then taken into surgery in order to place a device in her skull to monitor the swelling in her brain. She was placed in a medically induced coma in order to help her heal. Kendal sustained no other major injuries other than the trauma on her head. She had three small spots of road rash and a tiny cut on her knuckle, but had no broken bones or lacerations which astounded the doctors. Kendal had been basically crushed between two cars and her injuries should have been far greater than what they were.
Her Parents Notified
Shortly after Kendal was taken to the hospital, the mission president contacted David and Melody’s stake president who, along with his wife, immediately went to the Levine’s house to deliver the news of what had happened to Kendal. The stake president arrived at the Levines around 10 PM as the Levines were getting ready to go to bed. When they heard what had happened to Kendal, they were in disbelief.
During the remainder of the night, the Levines were frantically trying to get a hold of the mission president and the hospital in order to fully understand what had happened to Kendal. “We just felt like the whole thing was surreal,” Melody said. “We just kept thinking, it’s Kendal. She’ll be fine. It’s Kendal. If she got hurt, she’d pop right back up and keep going, and so we had the mindset of she’s a missionary and she’s going to be ok.”
David and Melody were able to Skype Kendal that same night once the mission president was able to travel down to the hospital Kendal was admitted to. When David and Melody saw her lying in her hospital bed hooked up to monitors and tubes, they realized how serious Kendal’s situation was.
The Levines immediately began making plans on how they were going to get to Australia, wondering how they were going to get through the next few days. “The stake president and his wife ended up staying with us until about two in the morning.” Melody remembers. “They helped us Skype the mission president and helped us get all the details. They were just there for us, which was a huge blessing.”
A Prayer of Faith
Once the Levines had a few moments to themselves, David and Melody knelt down and prayed for the safety of their daughter. “We never worried about her dying,” David remembers. “I knelt down and prayed and I just kept thinking of the sacrifices that prophets of old were willing to make. I remember very clearly telling the Lord that if He needed my daughter more than we did, then I would be ok with Him taking her.
The feeling came over me and a voice said to me that it’s not time; I’m not taking her home. It was from that point forward that I never worried about her dying because I was given that promise. We didn’t know how long it was going to take to get her better, but we knew that somehow she would come out of it.”
After twenty-four hours of no sleep and a great amount of stress and worry, the Levines flew out to Australia to be with Kendal. They were reunited with their daughter who was still in a medically induced coma. David and Melody remained with Kendal for the majority of the day, never leaving her bedside, hoping and praying that she would be ok. It was then that they learned that Kendal had been diagnosed with a moderate-high traumatic brain injury called a diffuse axonal injury, or basically shaken baby syndrome. What had happened is that the connections between the two hemispheres of Kendal’s brain had been severed and the bruising to her brain was not just in one spot, but in many, which resulted in a great amount of swelling in the brain.
After a few days, the Levines were told that Kendal was going to need another surgery in order to reduce the swelling of her brain because the pressure was getting too high. The Levines consented and Kendal was taken into surgery where almost the entire frontal bone of her skull was removed in order to stop the swelling. The frontal bone was frozen, and Kendal remained in a coma for the next three weeks in order to help her heal. Each time doctors tried to pull Kendal out of the coma, the swelling in the brain would increase and the doctors would have to put her back into a coma. Kendal had to be intubated because she was not able to breathe or eat on her own, which resulted in a feeding tube and machines that breathed for Kendal.
Back Home in Hawaii
After the Levines had been in Australia for four weeks, it was finally safe enough to fly Kendal back home. During the time of Kendal’s accident, David and Levine were living in Hawaii and they began making preparations to bring Kendal to Hawaii where they could be with family and friends. Kendal had finally been able to come out of the coma without her brain pressure getting too high, but she was in a vegetative state. David describes this state as: “her eyes were open, but nobody was home.”
“Kendal just had a blank, blank stare,” Melody remembers. “She wasn’t able to focus on anything and she was like that for a long time and we kept trying to do anything to get her to come out of it. You never know when they’re in that state if there’s something that you can say or something that she would see that would make her come out of it; something that would cause her to make a connection. She had lost all the connections in her brain which included the connections that told her how to walk, how to move her eyes, how to move her hands, everything. We were just trying everything to try and get her to respond to us, but nothing was consistent as to her understanding us.”
The Levines took a medivac from Australia to Hawaii, and although the Levines were now home, their experience in Hawaii was not what they had been expecting. When David and Melody got Kendal settled in the new hospital, doctors told the Levines that Kendal would most likely never improve beyond her current condition. “The neurologist basically told us to not ever expect a change and that she would be like this the rest of her life and that she was never going to change,” Melody remembers. “They told us that we needed to think about putting Kendal into a home.”
A Dim Prognosis
The neurologists negative attitude towards Kendal’s condition caused the Levines to ignore his diagnosis and put more trust in the Lord, knowing that Kendal was a fighter and that her condition was in no way permanent. “We just had to move on with faith completely,” said Melody. “…because we just couldn’t trust the medical side of it.”
The Levines remained in Hawaii for five weeks, during which Kendal’s frontal bone was replaced and Kendal was breathing on her own, but she still remained in a vegetative state and showed no signs of progression. There was now nothing more that doctors could do for Kendal and they told the Levines they were going to have to place Kendal in a home and make her comfortable there. . The Levines were basically being kicked out of the hospital. Though this was hard news to accept, the Levines refused to put Kendal in a home where she would do nothing but stare at the walls and not make any steps towards improving her condition. “We knew our daughter. She wasn’t just going to roll over and play veggie baby. You can never tell her she can’t do something, because she’d prove you wrong,” David stated.
After looking at a few different places that could care for Kendal, the Levines decided they would care for Kendal in their own home. David and Melody began making preparations to do in-home care for Kendal. With help from some of the nurses, David and Melody began gathering the necessary equipment and learn the necessary procedures to care for Kendal.
A Sign of Life
“One day,” Melody recollects “Kendal was holding her squishy ball, which is basically a balloon with flour in it, and I said “Kendal! Turn your hand around and throw that ball” and she just kind of did it. The ball didn’t go far, but she did it a few more times when I told her to do it, and that was the first command that she was able to follow, which was a huge, huge breakthrough.” Kendal also wore a retainer on her top teeth and she had always disliked wearing it. When Melody put the retainer in for Kendal, Kendal reached up and took it out—without Melody asking her to—and handed it back to Melody.
Once those connections were made, throwing the ball and taking out her retainer, more and more connections were starting to come together in Kendal’s brain. “Once these connections started happening,” said Melody, “We started looking into taking her to the U of U hospital and they would actually take her because she was able to respond to commands.” Kendal was accepted into the U of U’s rehabilitation program, and the Levines were given three days to get everything ready for their move to Utah. The neurologist who was working with Kendal in Hawaii was “fired” by the Levines and they quickly left for Utah with hopes that Kendal would continue to improve.
Kendal has been in rehab for over two months at the University of Utah hospital in Sugarhouse. During this time, Kendal has done nothing but progress. She is on the verge of walking again and her voice is slowly coming back to her. She’s also been learning how to get strength back into her left hand which was weakened due to the severed connections between the two hemispheres of her brain. Kendal’s progress has been slow, but she has broken every boundary that every doctor has set for her. The Levines are confident that she will walk again and that she will one day return to finish the five remaining months she has left on her mission.
“It’s just amazing, what she gave up,” David stated. “She gave up what she thought was her life, which was basketball, and then she literally almost gave up her life to serve.” The Levines believe Kendal’s willingness to serve and the sacrifice that she made is what has allowed her to continue to progress.
Kendal Touches Everyone
Though Kendal was given a medical release from her mission, she has still found ways to touch and inspire people through her amazing story and incredible attitude. “She hasn’t been released as a missionary,” David said. “That mantle hasn’t been taken from her; she’s still touching people and she’s still serving people.” During her last transfer, Kendal had been teaching an investigator whom she had met on the train one day. Kendal felt an immediate connection with this woman and began talking to her about the gospel and they became good friends. This investigator had been on track for baptism when Kendal had her accident and ultimately stopped taking lessons. However, this investigator and her son have since moved to Utah and have been meeting with the missionaries again. This investigator and her son have since been baptized into the church and Kendal was able to attend the baptism.
Kendal’s influence extends to the Internet world as well. Kendal’s Facebook page, Prayers for Sister Kendal Levine, has over 6,600 followers with people posting and commenting on her progress every day. During the first few months after Kendal’s accident, people were commenting on her progress, sending love, support, and prayers from all around the world.
One mother messaged Melody during the early months of Kendal’s accident. She and her family would wake up each day, get ready for the day, and before taking her children to school, she and her children would check in on Kendal, talk over her progress, pray for her recovery, and continue their day. They continue to check in on “Sister Rainbow”, as this woman’s children call Kendal, each day. The woman says she has been able to teach her children a great deal about the goodness of the Lord through Kendal’s story. Kendal’s influence extends to thousands of people. The Levines have received messages from complete strangers thanking them for sharing Kendal’s story and numerous accounts about how Kendal’s story has helped them overcome their unique problems and strengthen their faith have been shared with the Levines.
Not only has the miracle of Kendal’s recovery touched people, but Kendal’s attitude has astounded not only David and Melody, but Kendal’s supporters as well. “We’re really lucky,” said Melody. “A lot of people with this kind of injury change their entire personality, and they’re just awful. Kendal never has been depressed or down.” Though Kendal had lost so much—the ability to walk and talk, losing her long, beautiful hair—she responded to her accident with optimism and unshakeable faith. Rather than turning away from the Lord and embracing the misery that came with her accident, Kendal kept her face towards the Lord, knowing that somehow, some way, things would turn out the way they needed too.
“Faith was all we had left.” Melody said with David stating: “It’s what got us through.” Melody continued by saying: “It’s the key thing. Without faith, it would’ve been so easy to give up.” David echoed Melody’s belief: “You look at the how of the accident; it makes absolutely no sense that this accident should have happened unless it was supposed to happen and that’s the way that we look at it.”
Accepting the Plan with Faith
The Levines never would have imagined that Kendal’s 18-month mission would turn into the journey that it has. Though the Levines would not have chosen this path for Kendal, they believe that it was part of the Lord’s plan for her. David and Melody believe that the Lord asked in the pre-existence who would be willing to go through this trial with all the pain and uncertainty that it would bring. They believe that Kendal willingly raised her hand and told Heavenly Father that she would go and do what had to be done, and that this trial has ultimately made Kendal into the person that she was.
“It’s not what we want, but what He wants, and accepting that is the hardest part,” said David. The Levines have embraced this trial as something that had to happen and are determined to shoulder all the difficulties with faith and patience knowing that the Lord will be with them throughout it all.
Kendal has always been a witty person according to her family. She always had a smile on her face and was always making other people laugh. For David and Melody, Kendal still being the person that she was despite the accident was a huge blessing for them and such an inspiration for other people. “Kendal’s never had a depressed day,” Melody said. “She’s just always happy, which has been a huge blessing.”
Kendal’s attitude has allowed her to make her therapy sessions bearable and even enjoyable. The therapists that she has been working with in Utah seem to not only understand Kendal’s humor and sarcasm, but enjoy it as well. “We were lucky we got the therapists that we did,” Melody says of the therapists they have been working with in Utah. “The ones that were assigned to Kendal were the therapists that she needed and they were just great for her. They all got along really well and they still banter with each other.”
David and Melody’s faith in Heavenly Father’s plan for them is what has gotten them through the entire journey. Their faith has kept them from falling into the adversary’s power and kept them optimistic and hopeful. Looking back at their experience, David and Melody can’t remember a time where they felt hopeless. They never had a moment where they felt the burden was too great to carry. “We don’t have the option to give up,” David stated firmly. “As a parent, you do what you have to do for your children. We gave up everything had—we quit our jobs, left our life in Hawaii—and came to Utah because this is where we needed to be. We don’t have the choice or the option of giving up.”
David and Melody believe strongly that Kendal will fully recover and thank Heavenly Father for keeping Kendal alive and with them. “Even if she’s just a girl in a bed,” said David, “…at least we still have our daughter, but we know that she’s never going to be just that.” David and Melody’s unwavering faith in their daughter and in the Lord has pushed Kendal to continue to progress and keep their hope alive despite the long process ahead of them.
Thinking of the girl Kendal was to the girl she is now is difficult for the Levines. Kendal was a five sport athlete who was constantly active, and the difficulties that she faces now have been hard for her entire family, yet, not a word of complaint comes from Kendal. She continues to fight her battles every day with a smile on her face and her blue eyes full of the light of Christ.
Kendal teases her parents for getting emotional when they see the miracle that she is by laughing at them and saying: “Don’t cry!” When she hears her friends or family members let out a complaint, Kendal will look at them straight in the face and say “at least you can walk.” Kendal doesn’t say it of anger or frustration, but rather out of being grateful for what she does have. “She knows that she’s not who she used to be,” David says. “But she’s accepted that. She knows that this is what the Lord needs her to do.”
David and Melody will continue to tell Kendal’s story until she is able to do so herself. They look forward to the day when Kendal can stand on her own and tell her incredible journey in her own words. “What’s going to happen when Kendal can tell her own story?” David asked. “The tens of thousands of people who have heard her story will become hundreds of thousands because they’re going to see the miracle for what it is.”
The Levines hope that people will hear Kendal’s story and not only have their faith increase, but know that there is so much more to life. They know that the Lord gave them a trial that was less than ideal, but they know that there is so much more to life than the imperfections that come across our paths.
Kendal Levine’s journey, though long, painful, and filled with uncertainty, has been one that has touched many people and brought many to the gospel. The Levines never once doubted the Lord’s plan for them and for their daughter though they don’t understand the ‘why’ behind the trial. They knew that one way or another, what would happen would be for the best for Kendal and for David and Melody.
Kendal, in many ways, is still a missionary who has found ways to continue to spread the gospel and bring people the light of the gospel. Though they never imagined this journey would be what the Lord had planned for them, the Levines have embraced it fully.