Second-year psychology major Nikkie Sedaghat returned to UCSB this year after undergoing eight months of intensive therapy to recover from a carbon monoxide-induced coma.
Sedaghat fell into a 35-day coma on Thanksgiving Day 2010 while sleeping in her bedroom, which contained a faulty heater emitting the poisonous gas. Though doctors estimated her chance of survival at just 2 percent, Sedaghat emerged from the coma in late December and underwent an intensive recovery process that involved re-learning basic motor skills such as talking, walking and eating.
Doctors at the UCLA Medical Center performed a one-of-a-kind procedure using a combination of hypothermic and hyperbaric treatments to awaken Sedaghat, who is the first person in the country to undergo the experimental method.
Sedaghat said the recovery process consistently challenged her physical and mental fortitude.
“It was probably the scariest at that point — from the time I woke up until the time I went back to UCSB — the worst eight months of my life,” Sedaghat said.
Sedaghat had lost 26 pounds upon regaining consciousness and needed to relearn everything including basic motor skills.
The idea of returning to a fifth-grade reading comprehension workbook after taking college level courses proved difficult to adjust to, Sedaghat said.
“It was horrible. My cognition was bad; I knew nothing; I had no inhibition,” Sedhagat said. “I only knew two words: ‘cheeseburger’ — I swear to God all I wanted was a double-double from In-N-Out — and ‘fabulous.’ I knew that I was fabulous and I wanted a cheeseburger.”
However, Sedaghat returned to school last fall with a new outlook on life. She came to realize some of the beneficial consequences of her experience, Sedaghat said.
“There’s nothing I can do to change it. Today, I could not be happier,” Sedaghat said. “Those eight months were the hardest months of my life, but it defines who I am now. I don’t get one minute without thinking of what happened to me.”
Last quarter, Sedaghat formed a campus organization focused on educating students about carbon monoxide poisoning and promoting the use of carbon monoxide detectors, which are required by law as of July 2011. The group gives short speeches in various classes and Greek houses, delivers free monitors to low-income Isla Vista families and organizes an annual awareness run in Los Angeles that took place for the first time last November.
Second-year communications major Marie Loureiro, a close friend of Sedaghat and fellow group member, said Sedaghat’s resolve throughout her recovery has been an inspiration to many others.
“I went to see her every single weekend and it was amazing to see the transformation,” Loureiro said. “She is so brave and I’m proud to be so close to her and to be able to call her one of my best friends.”
Goleta Mayor Ed Easton said Sedaghat’s story helped shed light on an important social concern.
“I was totally unaware that the legislature had passed a law that required you to have a carbon monoxide detector in your home. I was totally unaware of any danger — then I heard this story,” Easton said. “That afternoon, I went to the hardware store and bought a detector. It took only a minute to install.”