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Posted on Tue, Jun. 22, 2004

Newlywed coma patient making slow, steady progress


Mercury News

Josh Berendes has spent the past three weeks at the bedside of his 20-year-old bride, Tara Berendes, watching her gradual, dogged fight to emerge from a coma she sank into 10 days after the South Bay natives were wed in Monte Sereno.

Last week, 23-year-old Josh Berendes flashed on an idea that might speed her recovery from injuries suffered in a fiery highway crash June 1: He suggested to the staff at University Hospital in Salt Lake City that they tune the TV in to baseball games whenever possible. If anything will get her up and out of bed, he joked, it would be her desire to shut off the TV.

Although Tara Berendes' condition is anything but funny, her deeply religious husband and family continue to use humor, a determinedly sunny attitude and prayer to help them cope with the struggle that has enveloped them.

Josh and Tara (Eichinger) Berendes, both grew up in the South Bay and fell in love while involved in activities at the Calvary Baptist Church in Los Gatos. They were driving through Utah on Interstate 15 toward their new home in Colorado with a car full of wedding presents when another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction crossed over the median and crashed into them head-on.

Tara Berendes suffered severe brain injuries, internal bleeding and major burns on her face before a Samaritan pushed a burning vehicle off their vehicle, probably saving her life. Josh Berendes is recovering nicely from a broken clavicle and hand-bone fractures.

The couple's loved ones' positive attitude appears to have been rewarded in recent days, according to accounts of her progress, posted daily on www.tarajosh.com. Tara Berendes is reportedly doing well today following surgery Monday to repair a torn diaphragm.

On Sunday, the families received some of the best news so far. Berendes was upgraded from critical condition to stable. She was moved to another unit, where specialists are able to work more intensively to bring her around.

She remains on a respirator for now and is unable to speak. Doctors don't know how much Berendes is aware of, but there is reason to hope because progress has been steady, if slow.

Her pupils respond to light. Sometimes Berendes opens her eyes for hours at a time, and sometimes she is able to track objects in her field of vision. When her care-givers squeeze her shoulder to test for a pain response, she sometimes moves her hand to her shoulder.

Josh Berendes and other family members are beginning to plan for the couple's post-hospital life. Recently they began to check out some transitional facilities that provide therapy for coma patients who don't need to be in the hospital treatments but aren't yet ready for rehabilitation.

Today is the couple's one-month wedding anniversary.

Josh and Tara Berendes have no health insurance and face a mountain of medical bills. Anyone who interested in helping out is asked to send checks payable to:
     Tara Eichinger-Berendes Recovery Fund
     c/o Wells Fargo Bank 
     299 South Main St
     Salt Lake City, UT 84111. 

Contact Chuck Carroll at ccarroll@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5206.

email: info@tarajosh.com