Five years after a devastating car accident, Cindy Bertelsen calls each day a new adventure

Something felt wrong to Dick Bertelsen a round 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, 2007.

He and his wife, Cindy, had driven separately to dinner at El Indio in downtown Gresham, and Cindy still hadn’t returned home.

She didn’t have her cell phone on her, and she didn’t answer the phone at Troutdale Antique Mall, her shop she was known to check on frequently.

After a few minutes, Dick hopped into his car and drove west on Stark Street. When he realized Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center and 242nd Street were blocked because of an accident, he parked his car and approached a police officer.

“My wife hasn’t come home, and this is the way she’d be coming home,” he said.

“What does she drive?” the officer asked.

“A green RAV 4,” Dick said.

“You better pull over and get down there,” the officer said.

Dick ran to the scene, where he immediately recognized Cindy’s license plate. A paramedic told him Cindy had been taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Unable to drive, Dick called a friend to drive him and called family members and friends en route to the hospital.

At the hospital, Dick, his daughters, Cindy’s sisters and friends were taken into a conference room.

They had been reassured her injuries were not life-threatening, and a split second later, a doctor told them they more than likely would never see Cindy again.

“We went from the devastation of the accident, to high hopes, to below devastastation,” Dick says.

When Cindy was 3 years old, her mother developed polio, and she lived with her grandparents for nine months.

With her mother wheelchair-bound the rest of her life, her parents waited until Cindy was 9 to have another child so that Cindy would be able to help.

“I think Cindy saw the determination in her mother and certainly picked up that characteristic,” Dick says.

When Cindy’s mom died in 1987, her sisters Stephanie and Sandra say she became a mother figure and leader in her family.

At the time of her accident, Cindy was one of the primary caregivers for her grandsons, Cody, then a newborn, and Jake, 2. Her daughter Brittanie Brewer had planned to return from her maternity leave the following Monday.

For more than two weeks, Cindy was in the intensive care unit of Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in a deep coma.

“There was never a doubt she would beat this,” says Gladyce Peebles, a longtime friend. “Cindy is feisty. Even in a coma, she looked regal. She’s always had such grace and determination.”

She had a broken collar bone, several cracked ribs and a laceration above her left eye from the airbag hitting her glasses.

“As far as we can determine, Cindy ended up running a red light and hit a police car (the police officer received a minor shoulder injury),” Dick says. “It’s one of those things that happens to so many people on a red light or stop sign. You turn around, look and think, ‘Thank goodness I didn’t hit anyone.’”

Doctors knew Cindy had a brain injury caused by a lack of oxygen to her brain during the accident, but they couldn’t predict the outcome of the injury or what sort of disability it might cause.

“All my prior exposure to comas was based on television,” says daughter Brittanie. “It’s not like ‘Days of Our Lives.’”

Keeping hope

In trauma recovery, the family celebrated every little movement, motion, blink of an eye and murmur.

When Cindy went through level four coma recovery — a difficult stretch defined by biting, scratching and pinching — Dick, a retired teacher and longtime Centennial High School coach, referred to the bruises she gave him as “love bites.”

“He stepped up to the plate every single day and never blinked an eye,” daughter Tiffanie Bertelsen says. “He demonstrated the meaning of true love.”

Throughout Cindy’s treatment at four different medical centers, Dick and Cindy say they were blessed with guardian angels — from the doctors to the employees who carried on the Troutdale Antique Mall.

On Nov. 5, 2008, Cindy returned home for the first time in a year and four days.

“Our house wasn’t exactly handicap friendly,” Dick says. “It was a four-level home with 12 steps up through the garage or 16 steps up through the front. It was a challenge, but she did it.”

Dick wanted Cindy to return to a familiar place before the two moved to a one-level home with vaulted ceilings — perfect for Cindy’s antique furniture.

A new adventure every day

Centennial High School graduates, Dick and Cindy met through their best friends, who happened to be brother and sister.

“I always wanted him to ask me out, but he didn’t until college,” Cindy says.

Fourteen years ago, Cindy sold her tax and accounting business to chase her passion for antiques, building and opening Troutdale Antique Mall.

Today, Cindy works once a week at the shop, which her employees carried on in her absence.

Family members, friends and employees call Cindy’s recovery nothing short of a miracle and say she has the spirit of a fighter.

“She has this spark in her eyes,” Peebles says. “She’s our hero.”

It’s frustrating for Cindy when she can’t do everything she wants when she wants to do it, which is right now, but she’s determined to continue her recovery.

One of the biggest milestones was her ability to laugh and crack her one-liners again.

She enjoys being “Grandmama” to her now 5- and 7-year-old grandsons and eagerly awaits her daughter Tiffanie’s July 2013 wedding.

“Every day I have a confirmation that I’m getting better,” Cindy says. “Every day I have a new thought.”

Her next goals are to walk down the aisle for Tiffanie’s wedding and to attend Nebraska’s Junk Jaunt, a continuous yard sale spanning 300 miles, in September 2013.

“Every day is a new adventure,” Cindy says. “We’ll be able to do anything we want to eventually. Just a speed bump — that’s all this is.”

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