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Model Niki Taylor taken off respirator

From staff and wire reports

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Model Niki Taylor has made "significant improvements" and has been taken off a respirator, her doctor told reporters Thursday.

Word of her improvement comes nearly three weeks after a car accident in Atlanta left her in critical condition.

The first word spoken by the model since the April 29 crash was "Coke," said her manager, Lou Taylor (no relation). Her doctor rejected the request for the soft drink, saying she was not ready yet.

Despite her progress, the 26-year-old cover girl remained in critical condition in Grady Hospital's intensive care unit, said Dr. Jeffrey Nicholas. Taylor was injured when a car driven by her friend crashed April 29 into a utility pole in Atlanta.

"She's a remarkably strong individual to have made it this far," Nicholas said.

Though he said Taylor is about halfway through her anticipated course of hospital treatment, she "remains at risk of significant complications and setbacks." Those complications could include infections, he said.

Taylor suffered liver and abdominal injuries in the accident, though her face was not marred.

Asked about the condition of the model's liver, Nicholas said, "Suffice it to say that it's not normal. However, she seems to be making progress." He said she was in good spirits and had talked with her family. "Overall, we are very pleased with her progress," he said.

Citing patient confidentiality, Nicholas would not say how many operations Taylor has undergone since the accident, but added, "Our hope is that she's had her last planned reoperation."

A reoperation is the term for a subsequent operation for the same condition.

While on the breathing machine, Taylor used a variety of ways to communicate, including mouth movements, pointing, and writing, he said. "Everyone who cares for these patients becomes fairly skilled at determining what people want who can't communicate for themselves," he added.

Asked why he had not allowed his patient to be given a soft drink, Nicholas said he was concerned she could aspirate the liquid into her lungs so soon after being taken off the ventilator. Aspiration is a common complication after patients are taken off mechanical ventilation and can result in pneumonia, doctors say.

Though she remains in critical condition, Taylor has made great strides, her manager said. "There were several times through the early days that we were very fearful that we weren't going to have her with us any more."

Man arrested for 'scam'

Lou Taylor said at least one person had tried to enrich himself at the model's expense since the accident
Lou Taylor said at least one person had tried to enrich himself at the model's expense since the accident  

A man who posed as Taylor's friend was behind bars Thursday for allegedly telling her manager that it would take thousands of dollars to stop the publication of unflattering photographs of the hospitalized cover girl.

William Siegelin, 30, of Macon, Georgia, was charged with theft by deception and obstruction of a law enforcement officer. Siegelin, contacted the model's manager, Lou Taylor, May 5 and told her that a security guard at the hospital was planning to sell photographs of the 26-year-old model taken in the hospital to a tabloid, according to Atlanta Police Department spokesman John Quigley.

"As far as we know, it's just a scam," said Quigley. He added that the photographs apparently never existed.

He allegedly offered to try to buy the camera from the security guard for $5,000. Convinced Siegelin was sincere, the manager gave him $5,000 on May 7, Quigley said.

Soon after, Siegelin gave the manager a disposable camera containing exposed film, but no pictures, Quigley said. At that point, Siegelin told the manager he needed $3,000 more to track down the name of the person he said was selling the pictures, Quigley said.

Another $3,000 changed hands May 10, he said. Taylor's manager contacted police the next day.

At a news conference Thursday, the manager said Siegelin told her that, as a friend of the model, he had obtained the pictures and that he was approaching the business manager as an agent of a "prominent law firm." She acknowledged paying him $8,000 for the pictures.

"My primary function is to protect Ms. Taylor from this kind of deception. As an opportunity to see this come to an end, it was worth every penny," she said. "He was representing it from a standpoint that he was doing us a favor in trying to secure something that was on the street."

Lou Taylor said the model is under 24-hour private security surveillance at the hospital, in addition to being watched by hospital guards.

Taylor's modeling career began at age 14 when she appeared on the cover of Seventeen magazine. She became a top runway model, landed multimillion-dollar contracts with Cover Girl cosmetics and Liz Claiborne fashions, and appeared on the covers of scores of magazines, including the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

In 1995 at her Florida home, she found her 19-year-old sister, fellow model Krissi, unconscious from an asthma attack aggravated by a heart condition. Krissi died at the hospital. Since then, Niki Taylor has raised money for asthma research.

Taylor has two twin boys.

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