Her big blue eyes and wide smile were as
bright as the hot afternoon sun
Wednesday as Tara Eichinger Berendes --
in a coma just a month ago -- took in an
outdoor jazz concert in Los Gatos, her
first trip off the grounds of Valley
Medical Center since her July 2 arrival.
Surrounded by her husband, Josh,
relatives and friends, she sat in a
wheelchair and easily carried on a
conversation about her life since a June
1 car accident, and a recovery that has
been nothing short of remarkable.
``I feel very frustrated at times
because I want this all to go faster,''
the upbeat 20-year-old said, ``but at
the same time it's given me an
appreciation of what it's like for
people who are always in a wheelchair. I
do feel lucky.''
On June 1 she and her husband were
newlyweds on their way to a new home in
Colorado when they were in a head-on car
accident in Utah. Josh Berendes suffered
modest injuries, but his wife was left
in a coma for about six weeks. She
slowly regained consciousness after
being flown to VMC.
Doctors say she suffered some brain
damage, but her progress so far has been
Now, with the help of physical
therapists, she is taking steps on her
own, crocheting a scarf and even cooking
at classes at VMC that are part of her
She is hoping to go home Aug. 26 and
will continue to go back to VMC for
outpatient therapy three times a week
for several months after that. She and
her husband will live in a cottage
behind her grandfather's home in Monte
Sereno where the young couple married in
a garden nearby on May 22.
On Wednesday she ate Kentucky Fried
Chicken at the concert at Town Plaza
Park. Her therapists, who had suggested
the outing, took along four other brain
injury patients from VMC.
``It's nice to be out of the hospital
and feel normal,'' she said.
Berendes said she looks forward to
walking under her own power out of the
hospital. ``I'm getting out in two weeks
and one day, and I'm very excited. I
can't wait to sleep in a big, king-size
bed,'' said the 6-foot-3 former high
school and college basketball player who
grew up in Los Gatos.
Berendes once had long blond hair and
was a teen model. Now she wears a
pressure mask that covers her head and
much of her face to help heal the burned
forehead she suffered in the fiery
crash. But her exuberant expressions
still shine through.
``Josh showed me pictures he took of
me right after the accident, and my face
looked terrible all over,'' she said.
``So now when I see this I look much
At some point soon, she wants to go
to her favorite Los Gatos sushi bar
(Sushi on the Run) and coffeehouse (Los
Osos, The Great Bear), and play her beloved
She added, ``I feel lucky with
everything that's happened to me,
because after all I realize that the
other man in the accident died.''
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED
Donations can be made to: Tara
Eichinger Berendes Recovery Fund, care
of Wells Fargo Bank, 299 S. Main St.,
Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. For more
information, go to www.tarajosh.com.
Connie Skipitares at cskipitares@mercurynews.
com or (408) 920-5647.