At first there was a faint smile and the
gentle squeeze of a hand. Loved ones
didn't dare to believe that Tara
Eichinger Berendes might be coming out
of the coma she had been in since a
head-on car crash in Utah on June 1.
But then she began whispering little
words to her husband, Josh.
On Tuesday, the 20-year-old newlywed
continued to stun doctors and those
around her when, with the help of
physical therapists at Santa Clara
Valley Medical Center, she briefly stood
on her own.
That capped what friends and
relatives are calling a miraculous turn
of events during the past several days.
Just in the past week, Berendes, who is
from Los Gatos, made brief phone calls
to friends, played blackjack with her
dad, read some get-well cards and
scribbled notes in a journal. She even
sang with a friend -- in harmony.
``We had some pretty grim news at
first, that she'd probably be in a coma
two to three months and that recovery
might be a year or two out,'' said Josh
Berendes, who had married her 10 days
before the accident. ``We didn't expect
her to be doing rehab this quick. I
think we're watching a miracle.''
Doctors say Tara Berendes' progress
is excellent. Dr. Jeffrey Englander, her
physician, says it's an especially good
sign that she is showing frustration.
``Typically,'' he said, ``when you
recover to the point of realizing what
you can and can't do, like Tara has,
that's a good sign and an important step
Englander said Berendes' youth and
determination, good health and strength
-- the 6-foot-3 woman played basketball
for years -- have helped in her
Berendes first showed signs of waking
from her coma about six weeks after the
accident, after being flown to Valley
Medical Center from University Hospital
in Salt Lake City.
As soon as she arrived in San Jose on
July 2, family members and longtime
friends, many of them from Los Gatos'
Calvary Baptist Church, where the couple
had met, surrounded her with prayers and
support. Many say that, and the couple's
strong faith, are behind her amazing
``I can't help but feel that all of
the love she's getting is what has made
this happen,'' said Deborah Levoy, a
friend of the newlywed couple's who sang
at their May 22 wedding in Monte Sereno.
``When you have all this going for you,
you have something to work for. Tara has
so much to live for.''
When Levoy first visited, Berendes
was unable to speak and could only roll
her eyes. But last week, when the friend
began singing a song she performed at
the couple's wedding, Berendes chimed in
and helped finish the song.
``She was in perfect harmony,'' Levoy
said. ``It's incredible to see her
coming back, singing, smiling and
laughing. It's pretty much nothing short
But as Berendes slowly regains her
memory, she also is starting to come to
grips with all that happened to her. She
has no recollection of the devastating
accident, which killed a Salt Lake City
father of two, but she is aware that she
was in an accident and recently asked
what happened to her car.
Her father showed her photos of her
mangled sport-utility vehicle. She grew
very quiet and said, ``Wow, I guess I
The accident claimed the life of
28-year-old Thad Goodman, the driver of
the car that slammed into the Berendeses
and the father of 3-year-old and
7-month-old daughters. His widow, Susan
Goodman, has reached out to the
Berendeses, forming prayer circles at
her Salt Lake City church and urging
anyone wishing to donate money to her
family to instead give to the Berendeses'
fund. The couple do not have health
After their wedding, the couple
packed their gifts and on May 30 headed
for Colorado, where Josh Berendes was to
be a youth pastor and work for Home
Depot while his wife studied psychology.
On the afternoon of June 1 as Tara
Berendes drove the couple's Suzuki
Vitara near Salt Lake City, Goodman lost
control of his car and it shot across
the median, hitting the Berendeses
Josh Berendes suffered moderate
injuries but was able to work himself
free. His wife was pinned in her seat as
the car burst into flames. She suffered
brain damage, some internal injuries and
burns across her forehead. The burns are
healing after skin grafting surgery.
Today, her husband, 23, rarely leaves
her side. He sleeps in a folding chair
next to her hospital bed.
Tara Berendes can't yet recall
certain events, including her wedding,
but doctors believe at some point it may
come back to her. Josh Berendes has
filled her hospital room with their
wedding photos and other pictures of
family and friends to jog her memory.
She looks at them constantly. And she
glimpses herself in the mirror, looking
at the unpleasant burn scars on her
forehead that may take months to heal.
``To me, she's just as beautiful as
she ever was,'' Josh Berendes said.
``When she smiles, she lights up the
room like she always did.''
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