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N.D. softball player recalls little about crash into lake that left her in coma

Sara Gullickson of Valley City at the 34th McQuade Softball Tournament, Saturday, June 27, 2009 in in Bismarck, N.D. Gullickson, who will be a sophomore at Valley City State, says she has no physical scars from a crash into a lake that left her in a coma.(AP Photo/The Tribune, Tom Stromme)

Sara Gullickson doesn't remember much about April 29, and she said it's for the best.

Her family and friends have kept her informed. She'd rather not remember.

Gullickson, who will be a sophomore at Valley City (N.D.) State University, says she has no physical scars from a crash into a lake that left her in a coma.

She came to Bismarck over the weekend to play in the McQuade Softball Tournament, as a member of Valley City Boomer's Corner Keg, a women's Rec I team. The Barnes County North graduate is majoring in elementary education and is a second baseman/shortstop on the women's fastpitch softball team.

On April 29, Gullickson was driving from Valley City State to her home in Spiritwood, N.D. She remembers it was raining, and she remembers swerving to avoid a goose on Interstate 94.

She woke up from a coma nine days later.

Her car plunged into Hobart Lake west of Valley City, and was submerged for about half an hour.

"They called me 'the miracle,"' Gullickson said. "You can really live after being underwater for 32 minutes. Six minutes is the tops. It was just so cold that it shut down my whole body. That's why I survived this."

Gullickson remembers nothing about trying to get out of her vehicle.

"I grabbed my phone and I called my mom saying I couldn't get out," Gullickson said. "I was in the back seat when they found me because there was an air bubble back there. The front of the car was going down."

A man from Bismarck saw the crash and tried to pull Gullickson out of her car, but the water was too cold for him to get to her. He then called for help. Gullickson doesn't know his name -- only that others tried to help.

"There were other people behind me who tried," she said.

Gullickson was brought to a hospital in Valley City and was later transferred to Fargo. She had water in her lungs.

She said her white blood cell count was so high that it was toxic, and she developed pneumonia. She also suffered from anoxia, a lack of oxygen to the brain. She said a probe was put in her head to relieve the pressure.

"When I woke up, I remember my dad sitting there," she said. "I have a niece, and one of her toy horses was in my hands. I was confused. They didn't tell me what happened for a while. They just said I was in an accident. They didn't want me to freak out. "

She started physical, occupational and speech therapy and was released from the hospital at the end of May, about 20 pounds lighter.

"I could barely walk," Gullickson said. "I had to concentrate hard to not fall over. My brain couldn't process it all .... My muscles weren't working quite yet."

Gullickson, who has always been serious about her school work, got a break from her Valley City State teachers. She was allowed to keep the grade she earned in each class before the accident. She received all A's except for one B grade.

Gullickson remembers coming back home on a Thursday and having 150 visitors the next day.

"It has really made my family a lot closer," Gullickson said. "It helped that people cared that much about me."

She now drives her new car by the accident site almost every day, and thinks about it every time.

"I'm more cautious about things when I drive," she said. "Every time I drive by there, there's a goose in the water."