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Posted on Sat, Jul. 3, 2004

Crash victim returns to area


Mercury News

Tara Eichinger Berendes, the 20-year-old Los Gatos woman who has been in a coma since a June 1st car crash in Utah, came home to the Santa Clara Valley and her family and friends Friday.

A plane provided by REACH Air Ambulance flew the newlywed and her husband, Josh, from Salt Lake City to San Jose where she is to begin what probably will be a long recovery.

Berendes has been in a coma since the accident, but she has opened her eyes, smiles slightly and sometimes tracks movement. She is not able to speak and suffers from brain trauma. She remains on a respirator for part of the day and is being fed by a tube in her stomach.

The young woman also suffered burns on her face from the accident, and at University Hospital in Utah last week she underwent skin-graft surgery.

``She made it through the flight very well,'' said her father, John Eichinger. ``The family is elated that she's here and under the good care of Valley Medical Center. All her family and friends in the community can be close to her now. This is her home.''

Just a week ago, Berendes' condition was upgraded from critical to stable, and doctors in Utah told her family she would be ready for discharge.

Eichinger began an intense scramble to find an air-ambulance service that would accept Medi-Cal to pay for the $10,000 cost of the flight. The Berendeses do not have health insurance, but some costs will be picked up by Medi-Cal.

Eichinger said personnel at the Utah hospital and at Valley Medical Center made extraordinary efforts to arrange the flight.

The couple, married 10 days before the accident, were driving from Los Gatos to Colorado when they were hit head-on along Interstate 15 near Salt Lake City. Josh Berendes was to be a youth pastor in Colorado and Tara Berendes was to study for a master's degree in psychology.

The man whose car struck the couple's small sport-utility vehicle died at the scene. The cause of the accident remains under investigation.


For more information, go to www.tarajosh.com for ways to help and donate.

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. 

Mercury News Staff Writer Chuck Carroll contributed to this report. Contact Connie Skipitares at cskipitares@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5647.

email: info@tarajosh.com