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Posted on Tuesday, August 24, 2004



Mercury News

She doesn't remember her wedding under the stars, her college graduation in May or the friend who has visited her three times since she woke from a coma at Valley Medical Center.

But after nearly dying June 1 in a head-on collision -- just days after her honeymoon -- Tara Eichinger Berendes said she isn't sweating the memories that have slipped beyond her grasp. She's ready to make new ones.

Hand-in-hand with her husband of three months, Josh Berendes, the Los Gatos newlywed strode out of the hospital and headed for home Monday, radiating strength despite the long recovery ahead of her.

``It makes me so much more appreciative of people who are stuck in wheelchairs,'' Berendes, 20, said of her goal to walk out of the hospital.

At first doctors said she wouldn't make it, so the fact she walked out of the hospital was another milestone in the former college basketball player's astonishing rehabilitation.

Berendes and her husband, who were married just 10 days before the accident, were on their way to a new home and life in Colorado when they were involved in a crash on Interstate 15 near Salt Lake City.



Josh Berendes escorts his wife, Tara, from Valley Medical Center on Monday.  She still must wear a special pressure mask for her burns, below left, but she's been able to achieve a list of goals, below right, held by her father, John Eichinger.   Photos by Joanne Hoyoung Lee - Mercury News Photographs.

The accident killed 28-year-old Thad Goodman, the father of 3-year-old and 7-month-old daughters who was driving the car that slammed into the Berendeses.

Josh Berendes, 23, a youth pastor, suffered moderate injuries, but his wife received head and other injuries and was in a coma for six weeks. She was flown July 2 to San Jose's Valley Medical Center, where, to everyone's astonishment, she soon regained consciousness.

The tragic beginning for this newlywed couple made national headlines. People from across the country have donated to a fund set up to help the Berendeses, who did not have medical insurance. To date, an estimated 100,000 people have visited the couple's Web site, www.tarajosh.com, updated daily by Tara Berendes' father. The site features photos of the radiant pair on their wedding day, as well as links to news stories about the accident.

Doctors say Tara Berendes suffered some brain damage, but her progress so far has been excellent. She showed no obvious signs of cognitive difficulty as she left the hospital Monday and chatted easily with reporters.

She remains scarred from the accident and wears a special pressure mask for burns on her forehead. She said she still struggles with short-term memory loss and can't remember anything that happened a month before the accident, including marrying Josh Berendes. But the San Jose native who has already experienced the ``in sickness and in health'' part of the deal and says he couldn't be more in love.


``We're just happy to be going home, so we can enjoy being married,'' he said Monday while rubbing his wife's back affectionately.

The couple will live in a cottage behind her grandfather's home in Monte Sereno, where they were married in a nearby garden on the evening of May 22.

Tara Berendes will go back to Valley Medical Center for outpatient therapy three times a week for several months.

In the meantime, the couple say they may renew their vows on the beach.


To help with medical bills, donations can be made to the Tara Eichinger-Berendes Recovery Fund c/o Wells Fargo Bank, 299 S. Main St., Salt Lake City, Utah 84111. For more information, go to www.tarajosh.com.

Contact Yomi S. Wronge at ywronge@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5744.

email: info@tarajosh.com