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The miracle patient

Brenda Herzberg had a 5 percent chance of survival, and well, she’s still alive


Brenda Herzberg, rural Ladora, suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage Jan. 14. She survived the ordeal and is now recuperating at home, where her kitchen is her favorite place to be.

Brenda Herzberg should not be sitting down, talking to you or me.

Two months ago, the 52-year-old mother of three suffered a brain hemorrhage that would have killed most people.

Thanks to intuition, competent surgeons and the support of friends and family, Brenda survived her ordeal and is on her way to recovery.

Herzberg, who lives with her husband Dennis in rural Ladora, works as an administrative assistant in the radiology department at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City.

On Jan. 14, Brenda was suffering from migraines. She has suffered from migraines throughout her life, but for some reason, Brenda said this time felt different.

It was 4:30 p.m. and she was getting ready to go home from work. Instead of meeting up with her carpool, Brenda decided to walk down the hall to the neuroscience department, where only a year ago, she was an administrative assistant.

While talking with Dr. Minako Hayakawa, Brenda collapsed. That is the last she remembers of her ordeal.

Brenda suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage in her brain. The mortality rate for such an attack is 95 percent.

“The blood vessel in your brain breaks,” Brenda said. “It is something that just happens, unfortunately.”

The attack would have killed most people. In fact, Brenda was told that if she had been sitting at her desk, or in her car or if she had decided to go home early to take a nap, she would be dead.

“There just must have been something that told me it was different than a normal migraine,” Brenda said. “I was in a doctor’s office when it happened. If I was anywhere else, I wouldn’t be here talking to you now.”

Because she fell at the feet of a brain surgeon, Brenda was rushed to the operating table. Two stents were inserted in her brain.

“They say I am a miracle patient, but the doctors are the ones that saved me,” Brenda said.

If she pulled through, it was expected that Brenda would spend up to 16 weeks in the intensive care unit.

Brenda came home March 2, less than two months after the incident.

The memory of the event eludes Brenda. She does not remember anything between Jan. 12 and Feb. 8.

“The first thing I remember is going to Cedar Rapids for rehab,” she said. “It is just odd to lose that time and not know it.”

The last two months have not been easy for Brenda.

She still requires 24-hour care and she goes to rehab three times a week. Her daughter Kacie, 22, has taken family medical leave from work to stay at home with Brenda.

“My family has been so supportive. My immediate family, my brothers and sisters, it is all just so unreal,” Brenda said. “I feel pretty good. My balance isn’t quite right, but that’s to be expected. My hearing in one ear is not so good, but that could come back yet. I am not giving up on that yet. Actually, I am not giving up on anything.”

Brenda and Dennis have three children, Brian, 26, Kacie and Jared, 20. Brenda is from Victor and is a 1975 graduate of HLV.

Brenda (her maiden name is Landuyt) met Dennis Herzberg after high school and they were married in 1978. Brenda worked for Amana Refrigeration for 13 years before taking time off to raise her children. Fifteen years ago she returned to school at Kirkwood Community College and earned her degree. She began working at the University of Iowa as an administrative assistant 10 years ago.

It is not known if Brenda will be able to return to work, but she is determined to make it back.

“I will make it back,” she said. “My goal is to get back to work and to be able to do things on my own.”

Until she is able to return to work, the family is in need of some help. There is not estimated time of recovery for Brenda, but it is expected to take many months.

Brenda’s friends have organized a Brendapalooza fundraising event for March 27 at the Victor American Legion Hall.

Sheila Kotouc, Lois Kovar, Chris Landuyt and the Landuyt family are organizing the benefit, which will include a silent and live auction, a raffle and a meal in conjunction with a dance.

The silent auction begins at 4 p.m. and the supper will go from 4 to 6:30 p.m. The live auction will start at 7 p.m. and the dance will follow.

Auction prizes include a flat screen TV, speedway tickets and state fair tickets.

Kovar said the Herzbergs will have monumental bills to pay following months of medical care and months of rehabilitation costs.

“We are trying to raise some money to help them do anything they need to do,” Kovar said. “The costs are astronomical and Brenda might not be able to go back to work for quite some time. We are doing just what we can as fast as we can. We will give it our best.”

Kovar said Brenda is “probably one of the nicest people you will ever meet,” which was evident by the fact that 60 people were at the hospital to support her.

“She will do anything for just about anybody. She would do the same thing for us,” Kovar said. “It is quite incredible how she came back. It has been a long ride. The only thing that kept Brenda alive was a miracle.”

UPDATED March 16, 2010 1:36 PM

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