Special Segment: Triumph Over Tragedy

November 14, 2011 8:31:57 PM PST
Twenty three years ago, Chicagoans were touched by the story of a 2-year-old boy who nearly lost his life in a car crash that killed his mother and stepfather.

Billy Crowley - who now goes by Bill - is 25. His story is one of great perseverance against great odds.

These are good days for Bill Crowley, even if he has to rely on another person's hand to shave his face and to pour his breakfast cereal and to brush his teeth. It's Bill's morning routine before heading to work each day. It may seem if anyone has a right to be angry Bill Crowley does, but he's not.

"I try not to dwell on that stuff too much," said Crowley. "I try to focus on the things I can do."

If you were in Chicago in 1988, you heard the beginning of Crowley's story. He was called Billy Crowley back then, just 2 years old. ABC7 reporter Russ Ewing described the horrific head-on crash on the Kennedy Expressway that killed Billy's mother, Kristine, and her unborn baby. Kristine was eight months pregnant. Billy's stepfather, Dr. Paul Stuart Chisholm, was also killed. Billy's father, also named Bill, got the phone call.

"You're wishing that it's a bad dream and you're gonna wake up," said Bill Crowley, father.

Bill Crowley - the father - rushed to Cook County hospital where he found his little boy in intensive care. The surgeons explained the head trauma, the broken jaw, the broken arms and the cut that would take 100 stitches to close. They told him that Billy's spine was crushed.

"They'd never seen a child that young with the trauma of the crash, the injuries of crash, and the spinal injury survive," said Bill Crowley.

But Billy Crowley did survive, paralyzed and in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The driver of the other car that day was driving under the influence of cocaine.

Young Billy Crowley literally became a poster child for the American Trauma Society. He met with the first President Bush in Washington. And over the years, he grew into a strong advocate for the victims of drunk driving.

"Because it's touched me, I'm in a position to help make a bigger impact," he said.

While his physical journey has been difficult, Bill Crowley is an academic success. He graduated at the top of his high school class in suburban Algonquin, then graduated with high honors from Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Then this past summer, he earned a law degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee.

"He's my hero...what he's accomplished...is remarkable," his father said in tears.

Now, each weekday Bill Crowley leaves his Milwaukee apartment early in the morning and winds through the downtown streets heading to work. His first job is working for Chase in their mortgage oversight division. His supervisor says he has an attention to detail that is critical in reviewing mortgage documents. Yet, you get the impression that Bill Crowley is aiming for bigger details in life.

"I know that there's alderman elections coming up next year," said Bill.

"He's worked hard, he's never complained...he's made a great life," said his father.

Perhaps that's the result of Bill's positive outlook. No matter what he's gone through he has focused on what's good.

"Even if it's not the greatest day, you know, try to go through it, stay upbeat a little bit," said Bill.

Over the years, Bill Crowley says he has received a number of cards and letters from Chicagoans who remember the crash and wonder how he's doing. Now they know.


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