Cal Poly student awakens from coma: ‘It felt like so many prayers had been answered’

Keilani Waxdeck’s family and friends were thrilled when she recently awoke from a medically induced coma and sat up — months earlier than everyone expected.

The moment was a joyous victory for the family members who have been at her bedside in the hospital for more than three weeks since the Cal Poly student suffered severe injuries in a car crash while on a road trip with friends to view the super bloom.

“It’s great news. We’re going in the right direction. It felt like so many prayers had been answered,” Nicole Sanchez, a family friend, told The Tribune in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

The 20-year-old Bay Area native was airlifted to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital on April 6 after the car she was riding in was hit head-on by an oncoming vehicle, according to the CHP.

Waxdeck and friends Erica Kemp and Mariana Silverman were headed out for a photo session at the Carrizo Plain when Bakersfield resident Brian Scott Adams, 29, crossed the center line over the highway and slammed into them. Adams and his passenger, Ashley Nicole Castillo, 29, were declared dead at the scene.

Waxdeck suffered a traumatic brain injury and a list of broken bones. Damage has been severe, but she lived.

The third-year graphic design student is a graduate of Castro Valley High School and described as “a pleasure.” After the wreck, her parents relocated from the Bay Area to live in Santa Barbara during the recovery process, Sanchez said.

“Somebody has been with Keilani every moment. They take shifts with her,” Sanchez said.

It’s all taken a toll economically, and the medical journey is still far from over. Sanchez said Waxdeck will soon undergo her 11th surgery.

“She’s still facing really serious issues,” Sanchez said.

Erica Kemp, left, and Keilani Waxdeck, both graphic design students, have been friends since their first year at Cal Poly. Both were injured in a fatal car crash on Highway 166 on April 6, 2019. Waxdeck is still in a medically induced coma. Courtesy of Erica Kemp

At her bedside, family members read aloud the many cards, notes and comments sent from friends and supporters.

“The outpouring of love and support, that’s been incredible. The messages coming from people who don’t know her well, or barely known her or don’t know her at all ...” Sanchez said.

Sanchez, who has known Keilani Waxdeck’s mother since they were young girls, started a Go Fund Me page soon ofter she got news of the terrifying event.

As of May 2, 935 people had donated $78,926 in 21 days.

“On behalf of the family, I would like to thank everyone who has donated or sent a positive prayer,” Sanchez said.

The friend who was driving the three friends to see the super bloom told The Tribune that they were equipped for a picnic, a photo session and a hike before tragedy struck.

“We looked like little fairies ready to go dance in the sun,” Kemp, 20, told The Tribune. Kemp suffered minor injuries in the crash, while Silverman is recovering from a punctured lung, fractured hip, sprained left arm and a fractured right arm.

Waxdeck’s injuries included a traumatic brain injury, broken ribs and pelvis, abdominal injuries and a broken ankle and foot.

Supporters are praying that her medical journey will lead her back to a hike in the wildflowers.

“We’re asking people to use #FlowersForKeilani,” Sanchez said. “It would be a beautiful way for her to look back and see all the thoughts and love that came to her.”

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