Each year, more than 400 Americans die from carbon monoxide poisoning, 20,000 visit the emergency room, and 4,000 are hospitalized. Last year, one of our very own Gauchos, Nikkie Sedaghat, fell victim to this life-threatening toxin. Nikkie Sedaghat’s parents were told by a team of doctors that her chances of survival were immensely slim—2% to be exact. With what I can only classify as a miracle, Nikkie survived; and after months of therapy, she is finally back at UCSB living her life to the fullest and making a difference on our campus and around the world.
Nikkie’s fight for her life commenced the day after Thanksgiving when her mother found her unconscious in her room, gasping for air. After a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, Nikkie went to bed, eager to wake up early for some Black Friday shopping with her mom. As Nikkie got into bed she began to feel incredibly tired; however, she thought nothing of it and just figured that her exhaustion was due to the Tylenol PM she had taken earlier that night. However, it was not the cold medicine, but the carbon monoxide from the wall heater filling her room that knocked her out. Nikkie spent nine hours exposed to pure carbon monoxide, as all of her windows were sealed shut and the wall heater continued to seep carbon monoxide into her room throughout the night.
When her mom found her in the morning, she immediately called 911 who rushed her to the nearest hospital. However, the closest hospital could not treat her because they did not have a hyperbaric chamber—a medical contraption created by NASA that utilizes pumps and valves to supply oxygen at a level higher than atmospheric pressure, pumping 100% oxygen. Luckily, UCLA was nearby and harbored the technology that could save Nikkie’s life. Nikkie was immediately put into the hyperbaric chamber to pump out the carbon monoxide in her body and pump pure oxygen into it. She underwent the hyperbaric chamber three times due to the enormous amount of carbon monoxide that was in her blood. The doctors induced a coma on Nikkie for four days which then lasted another 31 days, totaling 35 days of being comatose. During this time, a team of neurologists also decided to perform hypothermia on Nikkie, hoping to get her heart pumping and brain functioning. Nikkie Sedaghat is the only person in the United States to experience both hyperbaric and hypothermia treatment. With a startling 2% chance of survival, Nikkie miraculously woke up from her coma after 35 days. Although Nikkie had beat her near unbeatable odds of survival, her fight was not over. Thirty-five days of being unconscious severely affected Nikkie’s cognitive and physical abilities—she was unable to speak, write, or walk. Nikkie subsequently underwent months of physical, cognitive, and recreational therapy, having to learn the basics all over again–“It was so frustrating; I knew exactly what I wanted to say and do but physically could not do any of it. It all came together in my head but when I actually tried to say it out loud or do it, I just couldn’t.”
However, Nikkie is a fighter and was not about to give up on herself—she was determined to return to the social, spunky, and truly amazing girl that every person she encountered instantly loved. She spent hours learning how to produce words and take steps. Once she gained some of her cognitive abilities back, she began busting her butt at the gym four times a week in an effort to regain her muscle; in addition, she enrolled herself into a community college back home to exercise her brain. After six long months Nikkie was finally back to her old self, having regained her physical and cognitive abilities and her passion for life.
HC: After experiencing such a life-changing event, how has your outlook on life been affected?
Nikkie: I appreciate life so much more now; I soak in every moment. My mom always asks me, “Nikkie, why do you walk so slow?” and I always reply, “Why do you walk sofast?” I know that I survived for a reason and am here for a purpose, and I plan on fulfilling that purpose. There are just so many things that I want to do—I want to skydive, study abroad in Spain, and travel the world! And when I say that I’m going to do something, it’s going to get done. That’s just who I am.
HC: When did you know that you were fully recovered?
Nikkie: When I got my attitude back. I’m a sweet girl but I have some spice (she laughs).
HC: How has your experience affected your future goals?
Nikkie: I am going to be a speech therapist. Speech therapy saved my life—I owe my speech therapist everything. In addition, I have created an organization on campus called Carbon Monoxide Awareness at UCSB, and I plan on spreading this carbon monoxide awareness around the world.
Nikkie’s miraculous survival and subsequent recovery has made worldwide headlines, and Nikkie is not putting her newfound respect for life to waste. Her organization at Santa Barbara and plans to become a speech therapist are the just the beginning. There is not a doubt in my mind that Nikkie Sedaghat is going to change the world.
To hear more about Nikkie’s story go to: http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/health/your_health&id=8345658
And make sure to join Nikkie’s organization on campus: Carbon Monoxide Awareness at UCSB!