Brain-dead Wash. woman comes back to life

Credit: KING

Karen Arbogast

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by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

kgw.com

Posted on October 24, 2010 at 12:35 PM

Updated Sunday, Oct 24 at 3:18 PM

SEATTLE -- Karen Arbogast was a wife, mother and grandmother who volunteered as an EMT in the Tri-Cities area.

On Tuesday, she was dead.

On Wednesday, she was alive.

Arbogast, 51, was involved in a three-vehicle crash early Tuesday evening at Highway 395 and Hildebrand Road in the Tri-Cities area.

The Washington State Patrol said a FedEx delivery truck struck a Toyota Camry after running a red light on Highway 395. The truck then slammed into the driver's side of the Mercury Monterey van.

Arbogast was unconscious but breathing and taken to Kennewick General Hospital, said investigators.

"We couldn't believe that this just happened," said her daughter Candice Duncan, who rushed with other family to be by her mother's side. "She's always, always, thought of other people first."

But relatives said doctors in Kennewick told them the crash had left her brain-dead, or at least, with no brain activity.

"[It was] sad to see Mom being in that kind of state," said her son, Scott Magnuson.

Because Karen is registered as an organ donor, her husband, Carl, signed release forms. Doctors left her on life support so they could fly her to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for the organ harvesting procedure.

"My dad took off her wedding rings and all that stuff, and we all said goodbye," said Duncan.

"And it was hard," said Magnuson. "I didn't really say goodbye because I still had hope, you know. I just kind of got down next to her and kissed her forehead and said, 'I hope you recover.'"

Little did he know his words would be prophetic. The first word from Harborview came early Wednesday morning, said Carl's brother Perry Arbogast.

"He's there sitting at his chair at 2:30 in the morning," said Perry, "and the doctor calls and says … 'we have signs of life.'"

Ten hours after the crash, Harborview had found brain activity. They were calling, asking if they could perform surgery, said Perry.

"From being to the depths of losing your wife after 31 years, and then to find hope that she's still alive?" he said.

As shocked family members drove to Seattle from Hermiston and Umatilla, Oregon, doctors removed a blood clot from Karen's brain and cut into her skull to relieve pressure, said relatives.

And it appears to be working. As of Thursday night, Karen Arbogast's condition has been upgraded to serious, said a hospital spokesperson. Though unconscious, she's even moving.

"Today, she moved her upper shoulder and she wiggled her toes on her right side and her irises are responding to light," said Duncan. He said Karen was even able to breathe on her own for 45 minutes.

Perry said a neurologist told them it is actually not unusual for victims to have no detectable brain activity for several hours after major trauma, but he's calling it something akin to a miracle, though she's not out of the woods yet.

"Had they not sent her here to harvest the organs they would not have found out she was alive," said Perry Arbogast. "I think that's remarkable."

Family members said doctors are still giving Karen just a 25 percent chance of regaining consciousness. But for now, Duncan said she's not worried about her mother dying anymore.

"My mom as just always been there for me and been a pillar of strength for me," said Candice, who said people around the country have been praying for Karen's recovery. "Mom taught me to hold on to that and never let go."

The two other drivers in the crash were not seriously injured. The state patrol said the delivery truck driver was not under arrest, but the investigation remains open.

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