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Austrian woman raised in cellar reunited with family after waking from coma, asking to go on boat ride

By VERONIKA OLEKSYN
Associated Press Writer

ZEILLERN, Austria (AP) _ A woman born and raised in the cellar where her mother allegedly was kept captive as a sex slave for 24 years has emerged from an induced coma with two requests: to go on a boat ride and to see pop singer Robbie Williams in concert, doctors and a lawyer said Wednesday.

Kerstin Fritzl met with family members Sunday, shortly after doctors woke her from the induced coma she had been in for weeks, according to two doctors and Christoph Herbst, a family lawyer.

She had been admitted to a hospital on April 19 unconscious, with a life-threatening condition and suffering from multiple organ failure ó a case that brought to light the family’s underground existence in the town of Amstetten, west of Vienna.

Josef Fritzl is accused of keeping his daughter Elisabeth hostage for 24 years, fathering her seven children, including Kerstin, 19. Three grew up underground, never seeing the light of day, while three were brought upstairs to be raised by Fritzl and his wife, who believed they had been abandoned. One died in infancy, authorities say.

Dr. Albert Reiter said Kerstin greeted him with a “hello” during a bedside visit the morning of June 1, the day doctors removed the tube they had inserted in her throat to help her breathe.

“I say to Kerstin, ‘Hello, Kerstin.’ And Kerstin tells me, ‘Hello: a new life,'” Reiter told reporters at a news conference in a hotel in Zeillern, several miles (kilometers) from Amstetten.

Doctors said she is expected to make a full recovery.

“These moving moments were the preliminary end of a long ordeal,” Reiter said. “My job is done and I’m happy it ended this way,” he said later.

Reiter said doctors began reducing Kerstin’s medication May 12. She opened her eyes three days later.

“We laughed at her and she laughed back at us,” Reiter said.

In the weeks that followed, Kerstin’s mother played a large role in her daughter’s recovery, Reiter said.

“For all of us, Kerstin’s surprising recovery is a great relief,” said Berthold Kepplinger, director of the psychiatric clinic where the family is recovering. He said she would now undergo physical therapy.

Kepplinger said Kerstin, who can read and write, has expressed “many wishes,” including a desire to go on a boat ride.

Reiter said Kerstin wants to see Williams in concert and was playing the British pop star’s music loudly until 3 a.m. three days before her tube was removed.

He declined to answer questions about whether Kerstin had been sexually abused in captivity, noting that examinations conducted while she was in intensive care could neither confirm nor deny it.

Fritzl is accused of kidnapping and confining Elisabeth, now 42, to a basement hideaway for 24 years. Her plight was revealed during Kerstin’s hospitalization when doctors appealed on TV for her mother to come forward, saying they needed information about Kerstin’s medical history. Fritzl accompanied Elisabeth to the hospital on April 26.

Last Friday, authorities extended pretrial custody for Fritzl, 73, by another two months. He is expected to be charged when the investigation is complete. DNA tests confirm Fritzl as the biological father of the six surviving children.

Herbst said family members are getting along well and are happy to have Kerstin in their midst.

“Everyone involved couldn’t anticipate that this could happen so quickly and so positively,” he said.

But he said media besieging the clinic had restricted their freedom of movement. He said the family is living in an apartment on the grounds of the clinic and had received e-mails and letters from all over the world, including China, New Zealand and the United States.

Kepplinger said family members were in “stable condition” but were developing at different speeds, with some discovering the world for the first time.

“For some … a passing cloud is already a big deal, while others overlook such an event.”

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