Flight Of Life


Patricia Neidengard woke up in the middle of the night with the distinct feeling that her bed was floating on waves in the ocean. But she wasn't having a dream. She was having a stroke.


"I tried to get up, and the feeling of being tossed around only got worse," she recalled. As a registered nurse, she knew something was terribly wrong. "I yelled out to my daughter for help and to call 911."
Her grown daughter Amy quickly came to her aid and dialed for help.


Patricia soon lost the ability to move and to speak in sentences. It was like she was a baby again, as she struggled for words and could only voice vowel sounds.


From her home in Los Osos, she was taken to a nearby hospital where an MRI showed that she had a massive blood clot at the base of her brain stem. She needed to be transferred to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, and it had to be fast.

Patricia Neidengard


Fortunately, the new Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and its helipad had just opened.


"I wouldn't be alive today if that helipad wasn't available. I was within millimeters of not being here," Patricia said. "I was really in need of that ride."


When she arrived at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital she was rushed to surgery with Dr. Alois Zauner, who specializes in neuro-endovascular medicine. The surgery lasted for three and a half hours as Dr. Zauner worked to manually remove the clot.


Two days later, Patricia finally awoke from her deep post-surgical slumber. She was able to remember what had brought her to the hospital.


She recalled how cold the air felt as she was being boarded on to the helicopter. And she remembered that she saw sunshine when the helicopter touched down on the helipad.


During her two days of unconsciousness, she said she often asked herself if she was alive.


"Am I alive? But I'm thinking right now. So I must be alive," she thought to herself. "I can remember thinking that I wanted to contact God and to say 'I know you see me. Please take care of my children.'"


Patricia recovered quickly after suffering the stroke on February 16, 2012. After a week in the intensive care unit, she was moved to a medical/surgical unit. Then she spent four weeks in rehabilitation.


These days Patricia feels much like she did before her stroke. Her speech and memory are completely preserved and she moves just fine.


"I'm walking a mile a day for exercise and for the most part I'm completely back to normal," she said, adding that she expected to start driving again soon.


She credits the entire Cottage staff for helping her with her rapid recovery.


"All of the staff were wonderful. Everyone was extremely professional and cheerful. I couldn't have been in better hands," she emphasized.


"And Dr. Zauner is so professional and knowledgeable. His combination of skill and willingness to be available to patients is truly wonderful."


Patricia likes to say that she's "a poster child for miracles."


"Everything was in place to keep me alive. That helicopter ride was available right when I was at the end of that survival window," she said. "If I had to take an ambulance to Santa Barbara, I wouldn't have made it."


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