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Posted on Thursday, August 12, 2004

Accident victim has first outing


Mercury News

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 astounding.

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 therapy.

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 better.''

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 basketball.

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.''


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.

Contact Connie Skipitares at cskipitares@mercurynews. com or (408) 920-5647.

email: info@tarajosh.com