This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Some guy named Tomahawk owned the place.
Beyonce Knowles-Carter was the rehab center's sponsor, and everybody else who worked there was Thai. The design was inspired by totem poles. It was Vancouver, probably.
"No one but me and I was laying down seemed to notice that everything was slowly melting off the walls," Nikki Breedlove says. "I couldn't move, and I was just watching thinking 'They're gonna Oh, they fell. OK, there goes the next one.'"
While a faint sense of reality and a heavy dose of Propofol colored her coma dreams, Breedlove's friends and family found themselves in a waking nightmare.
She wasn't in Vancouver. The Landis Lifestyle Salon stylist was on the opposite coast for February's New York Fashion Week, and she had been hit by a car while walking in a Manhattan crosswalk on the first night of her long, strange trip.
Breedlove suffered severe head trauma. Doctors had to remove part of her skull to relieve pressure on her swelling brain. Her lower left leg was mangled with three compound fractures from her ankle to her knee, and four other breaks. Her pelvis was cracked in three places. Ribs had snapped, collapsing her lungs, and she was bleeding internally.
There was no telling if she'd ever check out of Tomahawk's rehab.
Catwalk, meet crosswalk • The Big Apple is not Nikki Breedlove's favorite place, and on a frigid, overcast night like Wednesday, Feb. 6, that was especially true.
"It's god-awful cold," says Breedlove, a 32-year-old Salt Lake City native. "You walk down one street and you're fine and then you hit the cross street and it's just like a wind tunnel coming at you. People tend to have their faces down and their coats on and are going where they're going."
A career stylist at 14, Breedlove says, she began working part time as a makeup artist at Nordstrom she was unusually high-strung after a practice run braiding on mannequins with her idol, Aveda Creative Director Antoinette Beenders. She tried to unwind over a light dinner and a few drinks at Dudley's on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
From there, it gets hazy.
Breedlove can visualize the seating arrangement of her friends – including two Landis co-workers, Logan Fast and Mitch Allen, and one former co-worker, Kristian Kanika. She remembers snapping pictures of an off-white, slate-blue design on the bathroom tiles that struck her eye. After that, Vancouver.
Her friends say she left Dudley's around 11:45 p.m. to grab a slice of pizza and retire for the night at a friend's house in Tribeca. Breedlove then called her mom to share her excitement about the jobs she had lined up with high-profile designers like Kate Spade and Christian Siriano. At the end of the seven-minute call, Breedlove said she needed to get off the phone to concentrate.
The story her attorney pieced together says that somewhere around midnight near Chinatown, a car traveling about 40 mph ran into Breedlove at a crosswalk. She flew 48 feet and landed on her head.
Nobody witnessed the collision itself, but the man who called 911 reported that Breedlove was in a fetal position, screaming.
"He said that he heard a thud … ran up and found a lady in the road," Breedlove says. "My purse was one way, my shoes were another, there was blood everywhere, and it was 'ugly.'"
Unrecognizable • Sheila Haas heard the phone ringing in the kitchen at her Sanger, Calif., home. It was a police officer.
"They said, 'Do you know a Nicole Breedlove?' I said, 'Yes, I'm her mom.' And then I didn't want them to say anything else, and I didn't want to ask anything."
Her husband, David, booked her a flight and fielded a flurry of calls from concerned friends, while Haas fought to keep her composure. On the plane she thought about the times she'd seen parents of brain-damaged children at the mall, or in the park, and pitied them. Suddenly she would give anything just to be one of them.
"I was so hoping that she would be alive in any condition," she said.
She ran up to her daughter's special trauma unit room at the Weill Cornell Medical Center, and when she drew back the sliding door, so too went her veil of denial. Her daughter, the vivacious, freckled brunette, was a swollen, shaved, black-and-blue pulp. Hooked up to 22 tubes and bags, Breedlove's only recognizable feature was a mole above the left corner of her lips.
She had "died on the table" three times. Five or six of Breedlove's friends those who had been out with her that night and Cody Derrick, flown in from Salt Lake City were there to comfort Haas, but they weren't faring much better. Kanika says she felt "numb" seeing her friend in critical condition.
For about five days, a rotating cast of caring friends and family waited in the ICU. They witnessed tragedies and miracles in nearby rooms, but there was little change in Breedlove. Haas would describe to her the passing tugboats on the East River, visible through a floor-to-ceiling window in Breedlove's room, hoping that somewhere her daughter was listening.
Valentine's Day >> Around the sixth day, briefly, Breedlove came back. In a test of her faculties, doctors pulled her off the coma-inducing drugs, and Breedlove managed two thumbs up for her audience of doctors and friends. Beams Haas: "And I went (gasp), 'She's there!'"
But Breedlove didn't respond to subsequent attempts to take her off the coma-inducing drugs, and doctors worried about the damage to her brain. When Haas asked for a percent likelihood that Breedlove would be herself again, they wouldn't give her "a ray of hope." It wasn't until three days after her movie critic impression, on Feb. 14, that she emerged for good.
She's not sure if it was during an earlier attempt to revive her from the coma, but Breedlove's first coherent memory is seeing her mom and dad, who have been divorced for 12 years, sitting together. "And so I knew it was bad."
Still, the nuances of reality set in gradually. New York and Vancouver blurred. She had acquired pneumonia. Doctors gave her penicillin to treat it, triggering a bodywide allergic outbreak of welts and blisters. Breedlove swore that her hospital bed was a shopping cart filled with towels and sheets, and when she looked down and saw a throbbing red skin graft, she earnestly thought, "I've been bit by Jaws!"
For the first two weeks Breedlove was out of her coma, Kanika had doubts about her friend's mental acuity. "She would have these moments that would make you wonder." Breedlove saw an incision from her pelvis to her sternum and worried that somebody had removed "her baby" a figment of her coma dream. "I was trying to convince her that it wasn't real, and she wasn't sure if I was being honest," Kanika said.
But Breedlove's personality was the same as ever. When one of her earliest demands was to remove a tacky picture and other "clutter" from the hospital room wall, her mom was comforted. "I thought, she's back! She's intact!"
Her mom braided her matted hair. Kanika curled up next to her in bed to give her hand massages. Derrick threatened to administer sponge baths if she wouldn't allow the nurses. Anything to help Breedlove through the interminable waiting period, before her sentence was up and she could start moving again.
Back to work >> Breedlove was in intensive care for a month. She spent a week in rehab at the same hospital, learning how to use a wheelchair and walker, and then flew still minus half her skull out to California in mid-March. Derrick met her during a layover at Salt Lake City International Airport for a long-awaited reunion with her dog, Pearl.
Sanger is about an hour and a half south of Yosemite, and Haas lives on a 20-acre ranch with a pond and animals much more to Breedlove's liking than the concrete and steel trappings of metropolis.
"I think it was really healing for my mom and I to be together," Breedlove says. "Growing up she wasn't big on cooking me things or doing things for me, she wanted me to be very do-it-myself and she got to baby me."
Breedlove returned to Salt Lake in early May, receiving a warm reception at her Landis Sugar House salon. Landis owner Richard Surber has already put her to work at her request performing office and managerial duties while she recuperates.
She will have the left side of her skull replaced with a thin layer of titanium in New York City on June 5. For now, she has a helmet, a wheelchair, a boot, and an unusual but functional haircut that disguises the inch-long hair on the left side of her head. Twice a week she goes to physical therapy, pushing herself in an apartment gym on off days. She hopes to hike again soon.
"I couldn't believe it was something as simple as walking across the street after doing really pretty risky, wild adventures, and traveling alone, far out of the United States to think it was just New York, walking across the street that hit me like this," she says. "But this has been a nice contrast. Kicked my ass, but it was a contrast."
She's not bitter. Breedlove jokes that in a Marc Jacobs fur coat that many of her friends gave her grief about, the driver probably thought she was "an animal jumping across the street." He stopped and called his insurance, for which she is grateful.
At the very least, her misfortune has elevated her in the eyes of others, she says with a laugh. "Everyone's like 'Oh you're such an inspiration' and I'm like 'S-, this is what it took?'"
"Layers": A celebration and fundraiser for Breedlove
Nikki Breedlove had medical insurance, a rarity for hairdressers and stylists, thanks to Landis owner Richard Surber's plan with United Health Care. Still, being unable to work for four months has left her with little recourse for the mounting pile of co-pays, travel expenses and everyday bills.
Her friends and co-workers are trying to lessen that burden. Landis started a fund for Breedlove at Landis salons, and on June 6 at The Complex, her employer has tried to capture her spirit with "a night of art, fashion and entertainment" titled "LAYERS."
"We wanted to do something that would be big," said Staci Ditzer, a Landis salon manager who was "shown the ropes" by Breedlove when she began working in Sugar House a year ago. Breedlove is often charged with creative direction for Landis' special events, and her co-workers wanted to "give back to her what she loves."
Tickets must be bought in advance and range in price, starting at $12 for students, and donations are encouraged for a silent auction and raffle. Organizers say all proceeds will go to Breedlove. Those interested should call Ditzer at 801-484-5506 or visit http://www.landissalon.com.
Breedlove will be recovering from having her skull replaced in New York, but she says "It will be a really nice thing to wake up to and know that's going on here."