Cindy Pawlcyn

Chef Cindy Pawlcyn spent much of 2014 recovering from injuries sustained in a horrific April car crash.

ST. HELENA — After injuries from a car accident kept her out of commission for months, Cindy Pawlcyn is back in the public eye.

Pawlcyn and chef Jim Leiken of Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen were at the St. Helena Farmers Market on Friday demonstrating how to make ratatouille. The small crowd was glad to see the well-known chef and restaurateur, who said she was also glad to be seen. Friends stopped by to catch up on her recovery efforts and wish her well.

For a person who sustained 22 fractures, she is progressing well and is in good spirits.

“I’m just so happy to be out and about,” she said.

On April 6, Pawlcyn and her husband, John Watanabe, were involved in a head-on, two-vehicle crash on Highway 12/121 in Carneros.

Watanabe sustained a broken hand, a kneecap fracture and shoulder injuries. In the other vehicle, a 4-year-old boy, Lakai Narez, died, and the child's mother as well as the driver were seriously injured.

“We’re both incredibly lucky,” Pawlcyn said.

Pawlcyn’s fractures included 14 ribs, her collarbone, her fifth lumbar vertebra, four toes and a bone in her foot. She was initially hospitalized for 15 days, and subsequently three more days for another operation. She has been going to physical rehabilitation three times a week and does exercises at home. She wears a brace on her right knee, her left ankle is bandaged, and was in a wheelchair until July 30 when she got up onto crutches.

“I kept saying ‘I’m taller! I’m taller.’ But it’s just a perception. It’s just the weirdest thing,” she said, adding she’s learning how to walk again.

In about four weeks, Pawlcyn expects to be walking with a cane, and she said she’s probably going to be in pain the rest of her life.

“I won’t have as much flexibility (in my foot) and will have pain for the rest of my life, but it’s all right. It’s just that kind of thing,” she said.

The toughest thing, Pawlcyn said, is not being mobile. When someone in the audience asked how she was doing, she said, “It feels funny sitting down.” As a chef, she’s been on her feet for 45 years. She also needs help with things like taking a shower and getting dressed, which took some getting used to.

Pawlcyn is not in the kitchen yet — there’s not much you can do in the kitchen in a wheelchair, she said — but she has had meetings with her managers at home. She said she couldn't speak highly enough of her staff, which has been covering while she is gone, saying she trusts them to give more than 100 percent. “There’s no lack of confidence," she said.

Pawlcyn also said she’s thankful to all the people who sent cards and gifts while she was in the hospital.

“You don’t know how wonderful it is to be in the hospital and sit there and have a tangerine that someone gave you. I’m doing great and the support from the community makes you want to do better. That’s why you become a chef — whether you want to admit it or not — you’re a people person.”

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.

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