Posted on Wednesday, June
After brush with death, life's sweet
Her sandy brown hair has grown
back, and the burns have healed enough
so she doesn't have to wear the tight
face mask used to mend the scars
around her eyes and forehead.
Today, Tara Berendes' days are
filled with moments that most people
would take for granted -- having lunch
with friends, going to the gym,
driving to the supermarket and
celebrating her 21st birthday. And
she's thoroughly enjoying life as a
new wife with husband Josh in their
tiny Monte Sereno cottage on her
A year ago, she lay near death
after a horrific head-on crash in
Utah. The June 1, 2004, accident,
happened as the couple traveled from
Los Gatos to Colorado to start their
married life. It left the new bride in
a deep coma with internal injuries and
moderate burns. The prognosis was
grim. Doctors warned her family and
husband of 10 days that she might not
regain consciousness. If she
did, she would likely be severely
Berendes proved them wrong with her
``I'm healing more and more every
day,'' said the outgoing, optimistic
young woman who gives no outward hint
of the brain damage she did suffer.
``I've just finished taking my last
college course, and now I officially
have my B.A. in psychology. And I hope
to go to grad school soon.''
Berendes astounded her family and
doctors by re-learning how to drive
and, in March, right after celebrating
her 21st birthday, getting a new
driver's license. Many thought she
might be traumatized getting behind
the wheel after the crash.
``Thank God I don't remember the
accident at all,'' she said. ``That
made it easy. I wasn't nervous getting
back on the road.''
Her husband says he worries a
little when she goes driving, but he's
philosophical: ``It's hard to worry
about things you can't control.''
Tara Berendes was driving the
couple's small sport-utility vehicle
outside Salt Lake City when another
car lost control and crossed the
median, plowing into them. The other
driver died at the scene.
Emergency crews cut Tara from the
wreckage, and she was airlifted to a
nearby hospital, where she remained
for a month in a coma. Josh Berendes
suffered modest injuries and recovered
quickly. Tara was flown July 2 to
Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in
San Jose. A few weeks later she began
to regain consciousness. At first, she
whispered little words to her husband
and soon began to sing, talk, read and
Doctors have told her that she is
about 80 percent back to what she was
before the accident, and could be
almost 100 percent within four years.
She no longer requires physical
therapy. But she does have some
short-term memory loss.
Berendes is involved in many of her
activities from before her accident,
including mentoring teenage girls at
her Los Gatos church, and briefly
worked at a downtown Los Gatos
coffeehouse. The one-time basketball
player also hits the gym a few times a
week. She hopes to join a support
group for brain-injured patients and
enroll in a memory improvement class.
Losing her short-term memory proved
to be both good and bad, Berendes
said. She has no recollection of the
crash. But she also can't remember
some of the best moments of her life,
such as her May 22, 2004, wedding to
Josh in the back yard of her
``I knew I was married to him, but
I have no memory of our wedding,'' she
said. The couple hope someday to
repeat their vows. When they do, she
plans to wear the same wedding gown.
The flowing ivory gown embroidered
with beads was partly burned in the
crash, but Berendes says it can be
Berendes copes with her memory loss
by writing lots of lists. She hopes to
get into the social work master's
program at San Jose State University
to eventually help the disabled and
other people in need.
Her husband doesn't doubt she'll
achieve her goals. ``She's definitely
got some barriers ahead before she can
do all that she wants to do,'' he said
as he and his wife held hands on their
cozy sofa. ``But barriers never really
bothered her before.''
Tara Berendes chimed in: ``I
shouldn't be able to walk and talk and
be as healthy as I am. I should be on
a ventilator in a nursing home
somewhere. But this miracle happened
to me. I am going to do things with my
life and help other people.''
Berendes still sees the burn scars
when she looks in the mirror. Some
friends and family have urged her to
undergo plastic surgery, but the young
woman said she's fine without it.
``Most girls would just die if they
had these scars,'' the former model
said. ``I honestly don't care about
them. I would much rather have the
scars and be alive.''
Husband Josh adds that the scars
``don't change anything at all. I
don't even think about it. . . . She's
the same person to me, the same person
I fell in love with.''
He has no sadness about the past
year. ``I am blessed to have Tara,''
says the 24-year-old who planned to be
a youth pastor but for now works as a
school custodian. ``What happened
wasn't a choice. Things come up in
life. You just go with it.''
While Tara Berendes looks forward
to continued improvement and getting
her master's, the couple also talk
about their dreams together, of
someday having children.
All around their small cottage are
reminders of the outpouring of love
and generosity that people sent their
way after the crash. There's a large
quilt, stitched by members of Los
Gatos' Calvary Baptist Church, with
inspirational messages such as
``You're a miracle.''
Tara Berendes looks at the past
year this way: ``I figured we'd get
the `for worse' part of the marriage
out of the way in the beginning. Then
it's all up after that.''
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.