This Guardian Angel Bleeds Red

Four Guardian Angels meet in the 1400 block of Ogden Street at dusk for their weekly march up and around Colfax Avenue, where they patrol the streets and alleys, looking to deter gang activity and other crimes — and to search for new recruits.

Three wear the recognizable Angels uniform: red berets, red and white T-shirts, black pants tucked into combat boots. They pat each other down for weapons, then sniff each other's breath to check for alcohol and peer into each other's eyes, looking for a drug haze — a ritual that Angels across the country perform.

A 24-year-old skater in a black ball cap and sunglasses falls off his board when he sees the trio a few minutes later, standing straight with their arms crossed. He remembers a visit the group paid to his junior high school a dozen years earlier and walks over to talk. He tells them he's been jumped before and wishes there were more people around to help — people like the Guardian Angels.

The fourth Angel stands in the background, listening. He doesn't wear a uniform anymore, and although his speech is slightly slurred and he occasionally stumbles and forgets things, he isn't drunk or stoned. When it comes time to close the deal with the skater, who looks like a good recruit, it's this man who gets his phone number.

Sebastian "Iron" Metz founded the Guardian Angels' Denver chapter in 1993. An energetic character who talked a mile a minute and felt a duty to help those around him, Sebastian built the group into a visible force on Capitol Hill in the 1990s and early 2000s. He loved the excitement and adrenaline of guarding neighborhood streets, intervening in fights, sometimes detaining criminals and waiting for the cops.

But in 2005, Sebastian underwent a rare and complicated heart operation that caused him to suffer several strokes. The resulting damage to his brain left him a different man physically and mentally, with little short-term memory and an unreliable long-term one. His family came apart and he could no longer hold a full-time job.

"'Brain damage' is derogatory," Sebastian says with a matter-of-fact demeanor. "I prefer to say 'a slight case of brain death.'"

While Sebastian fought to keep himself together, the Angels began to disintegrate, losing their office space, their headquarters and their clout on Colfax. But now Sebastian is back.

On Ogden, the other three Angels take the lead as they continue their "safety patrol" up to Colfax and then west. A woman in front of their former headquarters at 620 East Colfax pushes a shopping cart full of old newspapers and struggles for her words. "Angels do exist," she tells Sebastian. "They're not created beings to be worshipped."

Three cops in a police cruiser honk and wave as they pass.

A big, bald bouncer in front of the Roslyn Grill who goes by the name of "Tiny" asks one of the Angels what the hell he's going to do with the flashlight he carries if he runs into some real shit out on these streets. The Angel, Carl "Doc" Webster, just smiles, flips on his light and shines it into Tiny's eyes.

Founded in 1979 by a New York City McDonald's manager named Curtis Sliwa, the Angels originally patrolled that city's crime-ridden subways. An almost entirely volunteer organization, there are now Angel chapters nationwide and in ten countries. Uniformed members, who travel in groups of two or three, look for trouble and try to stop it. They are trained in basic first aid, self-defense, conflict resolution and how to make citizens' arrests, but they are prohibited from carrying guns.

A woman smoking a cigarette outside the Roslyn wants to know what happened to the free self-defense classes the Angels used to host. The group's leader, Ryan "Arch Angel" Warren, promises her they will return — just like the Angels.

They march westward, toward the Capitol. Sebastian jokes that the group looks like a bunch of old men who are on patrol because they can't find a good bowling league. But at least the other three are in uniform. Sebastian is on blood thinners that keep him from intervening if something goes down — one good stab or slice and he'd be a goner. Since the red beret immediately marks someone who is ready for physical confrontation, Sebastian can't wear it in public. "It guts me that I can't patrol in uniform," Sebastian says, "but I can still help with the recruiting."

A man on a bike with long dark hair rides by slowly. "You guys are still around?" he asks with surprise.

"You betcha," Doc says.

Sebastian Metz was born in New York City in 1964, but by the time he was five, his hippie parents were ready to escape city life. So they bought a cheap milk truck, painted it red, packed up their three kids and two dogs and explored the country, all the way down to Mexico. The Vietnam War was raging, and when the family got back to New York, there was no end in sight. Conscientious objectors, Sebastian's parents sold their belongings, took the dogs to a shelter and left again — this time for "Drop City," the infamous hippie commune near Trinidad. After that, the family resettled in Canada.

In the early 1970s, they lived in an abandoned log cabin near an artist community, about three hours north of Vancouver. The families that lived there grew their own food, chopped wood for fuel, baked bread and carried well water. Meals were eaten under the light of kerosene lamps. The communal atmosphere gave Sebastian compassion for his fellow man, remembers his mother, Sue Scott. The families would all pile into a fishing boat and travel to Vancouver to pick up bags of grains.

But the crop Sebastian says he became most familiar with was marijuana. He was still just a kid when he got his first job harvesting pot plants, a job for which he was also paid in pot — until he quit smoking at thirteen in an act of rebellion against his parents.

The Metz family was one of artists (Sebastian's father was a writer and editor), not athletes, not warriors. But Sebastian fell in love with hockey the summer before high school, after the family moved to Vancouver, playing on the concrete with homemade pads from the time he woke up in the morning until the sun went down. At age sixteen, he was out on the ice, skating until his ankles bled in hockey boot camps, then skating some more.

Months after graduating from high school in 1982, Sebastian met a female Guardian Angel from Portland who was in Canada trying to start a Vancouver chapter. Several high-profile crimes had captured the attention of Canada's national press, and many Canadians were panicking that they had imported American crime.

Sebastian went to a meeting and loved it. He enrolled in the training session — which reminded him of hockey camp — and walked with the first graduating Vancouver class of 42 people, Canada's largest chapter at the time.

Sebastian remembers splitting up fights while on patrol, but he says the Angels were also targets for people who didn't like their do-gooder image. On one occasion, a rocker in motorcycle boots and a jean jacket started hitting Sebastian in the face over and over for no apparent reason. "Calm down, calm down, calm down, sir," was all that Sebastian could utter before his fellow Angels pulled his assaulter off him.

The pain wasn't as bad as Sebastian thought it would be, but the fear sank in shortly thereafter. Sebastian had to resurrect his nerve, which took a couple of weeks. Back on patrol, he was jumpy for a while, but he went on to become the chapter's leader.

In 1987, Sebastian flew to New York to be trained for six weeks as a regional director. But the Angels were also checking him out to see how he'd measure up in the big city.

"When I first met Sebastian, he was like Don Quixote, swinging at the windmills, talking in run-on sentences. He made no sense at all. He was a hippie kid," remembers Sliwa. "At first he was hopelessly naive, always willing to give the bad guy the benefit of the doubt. He'd get clocked from time to time, he'd get snuckered, a thug would get up on him, but he maintained his idealist way, always pleasant and polite. He was what we called a trouper; he could survive on air sandwiches and unsweetened Kool-Aid because of his communal upbringing. Most Guardian Angels don't react well to that, but he actually adapted better than anticipated. Very few other Guardian Angels had that kind of determination and that kind of what we call moxie."

When a city is in its most dire need, the Guardian Angels respond with a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week program, constantly watching the streets for trouble. Three things are necessary to run 24/7: donated food, space and a leader.

Sebastian's personality helped him tolerate the Angels' space, above a porno theater in Times Square. The place had no toilet, so the Angels had to go across the street to the Port Authority; for showers, they had keys to an abandoned theater that had a sink but no lights.

But that same personality also hurt him. Sebastian was a chatterbox, Sliwa remembers, which was sometimes perceived as a weakness on the streets.

Sebastian believes the Angels attract two kinds of people: crime fighters and peacekeepers. He considered himself a peacekeeper, and in New York he was in a chapter full of crime fighters, many of whom had lived around violence all their lives.

"I have always been a romantic at heart when it comes to right and wrong, good and bad and doing the right thing," he says.

When he returned to Vancouver as a regional director, Sebastian got a job as a stage hand at a theater company. After the shows were over, he and a co-worker whom he'd recruited into the Angels would patrol the alleys from midnight until early morning.

He later set up a chapter in the suburbs of Vancouver, then restarted chapters in Seattle and Portland. Sliwa remembers paying a visit to Seattle when that city was infested with gangs in the late '80s. The whole chapter was living off of watermelon, and Sebastian was the only guy not complaining, he says.

In Seattle, Sebastian was shot with a pellet gun and suffered his worst beating, from a broken bottle. It sent him to the emergency room, but it didn't deter him.

"As an Angel, you get people who give you lip, who don't like you, who don't understand. They say you risk your life for nothing, but it's not for nothing. People appreciate you, they thank you," he says. "I was always attracted to being a hero, and I always enjoyed helping people. It's the best...and if people experienced it, they'd want to get a lot more of it. Maybe something is wrong with my ego, but I just need that, I love it. If you can get that from it, that's the best paycheck."

Of the four Guardian Angels walking Colfax, Sebastian isn't the oldest. Two are twenty-somethings, but sixty-year-old Doc has been an Angel as long as they've been in Denver. It's Doc who spots two kids sitting on their skateboards on a bench outside the Capitol and jumps on the recruitment opportunity.

"What are you guys?" one of the kids asks.

"We're Guardian Angels," Doc tells him.

"What do you do?"

"We help people."

Doc tells them that they can bring in their older brothers and sisters or their parents to the Angels headquarters for free self-defense classes.

"Will it help you to get into the cops or something?" the kid asks.

As the Angels approach a bus stop at Lincoln and Colfax and begin handing out fliers, Sebastian eyes potential members, but not as hard as some of the people at the bus stop are looking at him. Before the heart surgery, Doc says, Sebastian was one of the best recruiters the Angels had. But while the words used to roll right off his tongue, these days he struggles for them. His hands tremble. He forgets to watch where he's walking, takes a couple of steps and collides with a man on the corner.

"Arch Angel is a good recruiter and Doc is a good recruiter, and I'm probably just embarrassing them," Sebastian says. "Sometimes you feel like recruiting when you're out and sometimes you don't; it's like that Almond Joy commercial. But a bunch of guys walking around looking like candy canes? I mean, come on, it's laughable — if it wasn't so serious."

In 1989, Sebastian moved back to New York, where his life was a constant foot chase of purse-snatchers and window-breakers, fights and near-fights. On one patrol, a hooker sliced him with a box knife. In between the action, the Angels passed out fliers on the trains, even though security would harass them. At the end of the day, they'd be lucky to get a donated slice of pizza or a piece of Popeye's chicken with a stale biscuit. It was a different kind of life for Sebastian, but one he took to.

He spent part of his time on the road, starting or restarting chapters in Boston, New Haven, Bridgeport, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. He also helped create a chapter in Toronto and was the first Angel to take the cause overseas — to London and Manchester, Berlin, Stockholm, Sydney and Brisbane.

Sebastian was the best man for the job, partly due to his Canadian background and his ability to adapt to any living situation, Sliwa says. Plus, he didn't drink or party, he was a good trainer, and he was one of the most media-savvy people in the group.

The call to Denver came in 1993, after gang-related shootings led to the deaths of several innocent people, including a six-year-old boy shot in a drive-by in Park Hill and a schoolteacher on her way home from work. The Summer of Violence, as it was called, led to national media headlines and a special legislative session.

Sebastian, who hadn't been to Colorado since his family left Drop City, set up shop on East Colfax with the help of Dave Walstrom, who was executive director of Colfax on the Hill and the Colfax Business Improvement District at the time.

Residents, business owners and community groups in Capitol Hill were looking for solutions, so Walstrom cordinated a series of public meetings and conversations with Sebastian. "We were so impressed with this young man; he was so persuasive and such a great salesperson," Walstrom remembers.

Sebastian met with the police and the Denver City Council. Denver police officer Snow White remembers Sebastian was always happy to help with Halloween parties hosted by the police department for inner-city kids. "He was a total go-to person," she says. "If you needed anything, you could call him."

By March 1994, Denver had a graduating class of 31 Angels, and the chapter launched right into the 24/7 program using an office space on 14th Avenue as a crash pad, with two bunk beds for the four volunteers; training took place at Rude Recreation Center.

Although there was some opposition to the Angels, the atmosphere in Denver was more welcoming than in most places, Sebastian says. In a city full of unique neighborhoods, residents are used to getting involved, he explains. They also have that Old West mentality of minding other people's business for the safety of everyone.

Sebastian remembers when a woman came into the Angels' office with a flier that had a picture of her runaway daughter. That same day, Sebastian found the girl on the 16th Street Mall. The mother and daughter later attended a Guardian Angels function to thank them for helping.

"Having eyes and ears on the street late at night — anecdotally, it was something we could see was having an impact," Walstrom says. "I think with everything that went on, in terms of the two premises of redevelopment of an urban corridor — safe and clean — the Angels definitely made a contribution with their presence."

Holly Brooks, the owner of Capitol Hill Books, at Colfax and Grant, remembers when a group of Angels first came into her store to explain their program. They wanted to seem paramilitary, she says, and they lockstepped up the street.

"They gave us a number to call if we needed help. I can't remember ever having used that," she says. "But anything would have had some kind of an impact, because it can be pretty wild here, especially a few years ago, when I would walk to my car and people would offer me drugs — and I have white hair! But you sort of get the feeling that once [the Angels] are half a block away, things go back to normal."

The chapter relocated to a storefront on Colfax at Lafayette, then to another spot in the Ramada Inn. They lived in the abandoned Brick Oven Beanery at Colfax and Ogden until it was torn down. Some of the members had full-time jobs, patrolling in the evenings or on weekends. But others stayed on duty 24 hours a day, keeping expenses to a minimum and surviving on small donations. The space that they used was donated, as was much of their food — coming from places like Taki's Japanese Restaurant.

"Colfax is much better with the Angels," says Hisashi Takimoto, owner of Taki's, at 341 East Colfax. "There are lots of homeless people around here, also lots of drunk people. They help with that."

Still a regional director at the time, Sebastian split his time between Denver and San Francisco until 1998, when he settled here permanently and paid the rent by doing weekend radio talk shows on 850 KOA and KTLK 760, covering topical events.

That same year, the Angels landed a contract to guard a church lot where Fillmore Auditorium concert-goers parked during shows. They used the money to rent a building on Colfax and Pearl, big enough to sleep four and hold self-defense training sessions. Although the kitchen was more like a break room, they had a refrigerator and an electric stove. Plus, it had a functioning shower.

Doc Webster was the chapter leader at the time. An Army veteran who did a short stint in Vietnam, he and his wife had graduated in the Angels' first class. Because of his day job as a nurse at the Denver VA Medical Center, Doc already had a rapport with a lot of the people he'd run into while patrolling Capitol Hill. The chapter had about twenty Angels whom Doc could count on each weekend. Meanwhile, Sebastian handled the books and fundraising, wrote newsletters and networked.

"Sebastian was just an amazing leader," says Robert "Jag" McClintick, another Denver founding member who went on to help start other chapters across the country.

"Very dedicated, a guy you could definitely depend on and count on, who throughout his time as a Guardian Angel was very heroic in many instances, too many to try to detail," he adds. "There were so many times when he was the guy in the middle of the heat of the battle and stood up and said, 'Hey, follow me.'"

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade had already become a Guardian Angel tradition when Shauna Strecker met Sebastian there in 2001.

Shauna, then 38, was in a band that had just moved back to Denver from England, and an artist friend who knew Sebastian from San Francisco invited her to the march. Meeting Sebastian was a visceral moment, she says. He was one of the happiest souls she had ever seen. She noticed that he would look at her eyes and meet her gaze when speaking.

Shauna already knew of him from his radio show, but by then Sebastian was also working for the non-profit Capitol Hill United Neighbors.

On their second date, Sebastian and Shauna were walking across a bridge over West Sixth Avenue when they saw a woman who was threatening to jump. She had just had a baby and was suffering from postpartum depression, Shauna remembers. The husband was hysterical, shouting. Sebastian spoke with the man; Shauna spoke with the woman until nearly sunrise. The couples exchanged phone numbers, and Shauna remembers a grateful followup.

Over the ensuing months, Sebastian wrote Shauna odes and poems. They took walks in the park and picked up litter. It wasn't long before they moved in together in a Tennyson Street duplex. Just a couple of months into their new digs, Shauna was woken up at 3 a.m. by yelling outside. Sebastian's little black Geo Metro was on fire, and firefighters were trying to extinguish the blaze. Afterward, the police suggested that it may have been intentional — retaliation against the Guardian Angels.

But Shauna loved Sebastian's ethic, his heroics and his willingness to do anything to keep the Angels strong (one time, he dove in a dumpster to replace an old toilet at the Angels headquarters, she says). And she saw that he was just as fearless on the ice and on the soccer field in the various sports leagues he participated in.

The couple married on February 9, 2003, and moved into a larger house. The next year, Sebastian became the first person west of New York to draw a full-time salary, albeit a modest one, from the Angels, as the organization's western region director.

When Shauna got pregnant, she made Sebastian, who hated going to the doctor, get checked out as well. Another physician had noticed a heart murmur a few months earlier but decided it was nothing more than high blood pressure.

The second doctor heard the murmur, too, and after some tests, another physician shocked the Metzes by telling them Sebastian needed surgery as soon as possible. He had a congenital heart defect that blocked his aorta, which kept the blood from getting down to the rest of his body. The blockage actually kills most people by the time they are seven years old.

The doctor was amazed that Sebastian had lived as long as he had and said there was no time to waste. Without the surgery, he wouldn't make it another five years. Actor John Ritter was killed by the same defect.

"He had the most fucked-up plumbing around his heart that he could possibly have, and no doctor in the whole state of Colorado would touch him," Shauna remembers. So Sebastian was scheduled for surgery at Stanford University in California. He had to choose between a pig valve that would've lasted ten years in his body before he'll need another surgery or an artificial valve that would require him to take blood thinners but wouldn't necessarily require a replacement. He chose the latter.

Death was certainly a possibility, although it was one that Sebastian refused to accept. His son, Rooks, was born in October 2004, and in January 2005, Sebastian flew to California for his operation. He and his wife went out for a nice Italian dinner before — a memory that didn't come back to him until nearly a year later.

The complicated procedure to put an artificial metal valve and add tubing to replace his descending aorta lasted more than eighteen hours, and Sebastian flatlined three times. The doctors had to massage his heart to keep it beating, and he suffered multiple strokes. By the time it was over, Sebastian was in a coma.

Tubes ran in and out of almost every hole in his body, keeping him alive, and the doctors told Sebastian's family that he'd be a vegetable if he ever pulled out of it. But Shauna and friends and family and a couple of Angels on hand, including Sliwa, told the doctors that they just didn't know Sebastian.

On the fourth day of his coma, Sebastian's left arm and right leg started to swell up, and his fingernails and toenails turned black. He had an allergic reaction to the blood thinner, and his blood clotted instead of thinning. He ran a high fever, and they had to put his shaking body on an ice bed. The reaction also could have caused the brain injury, Shauna suspects, though they'll never know for sure. (Cardiovascular surgeon Craig Miller, who led the procedure, couldn't be reached for comment.)

While Sebastian fought for life, his wife battled the insurance company as the costs associated with the surgery and an around-the-clock nurse in the intensive care unit soared. Shauna says the company wanted to put Sebastian in a nursing home, but it couldn't do anything until she signed to get him out of the intensive care unit; the insurance company then tried to fly him to Denver without her, but she wanted to be on the plane, monitoring his condition. In the end, it went her way, and Sebastian returned to Denver on February 7, where he was taken to St. Joseph Hospital and, later, to Craig Hospital.

Six weeks after the surgery, Sebastian began to emerge from the coma. But his memories are jagged. He remembers being wheeled out of the hospital on a gurney with a nurse rolling an oxygen tank alongside him. His wife and son were there. He remembers being in the airplane, although he says he couldn't think normal thoughts.

"I knew pretty quickly that I was damaged, and I was bitter about that," he says.

Sebastian recalls being at St. Joseph, trying to walk again. His stepfather and one of his sisters were there with Shauna and Rooks. "I remember walking around with the walker, and I wasn't clear what had happened. I thought I had fallen down and hit my head or something, because I couldn't remember the surgery," he says.

Over the next few months, Sebastian had to relearn how to eat, to walk, to tie his shoes. His speech was slurred and not as commanding; he struggled for his words. But the most difficult part for him and for everyone around him was the short-term memory loss. He couldn't remember left. He couldn't remember right. Eventually he came home, but the insurance company said the house they lived in wasn't suitable for his condition — too many stairs and no railings — so they had to move to a smaller place.

A little more than a year after he cheated death, Sebastian was well enough to attend the ceremonies for Denver's Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He stood up in full Angel uniform and accepted a warm welcome back and thank you.

"It felt amazing," he says. "I have got nothing but love from the city of Denver, and I love 'em back. I mean, come on, people standing up there cheering you for the effort you made and the things you've done...I was just really, really touched," he says.

Shauna couldn't keep up with the calls and e-mails about Sebastian. She started a daily blog to keep people up to date and says she got 40,000 hits.

But Sebastian's development was slow. He snapped and swore at Shauna and was quick to fly off the handle. To give her a break, Sebastian flew to Vancouver Island in Canada to spend some time with his mother and family.

"He's reclaiming his life," his mother says. "I've been watching, and people with brain injuries, it's like they've lost a piece of themselves. They go through a process of remembering themselves, rediscovering their life, and it seems to me that he's been moving through the different stages of his life from childhood right through adulthood and replaying them, finishing up each one and moving to the next one."

But on his return to Denver, Shauna became more of a parent figure to Sebastian. Twice he dropped Rooks. After the second time, Shauna expressed more concern.

"That was three fucking months ago," he screamed.

"That was three days ago," she told him.

Shauna knew his memory loss and his anger were a result of the injury, but she felt Sebastian needed more attention than she could give him with their infant child to tend to as well. They decided Sebastian should go back to Canada for a while.

An Angels power struggle erupted during Sebastian's absence.

Doc, who'd led the chapter for ten years until he became the Colorado coordinator in 2004, didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things with the new Denver leader, 54-year-old Ted "Brimstone" Noyes, a retired chemist. In the past, Sebastian had been there to smooth things out. Sebastian's best friend, Ted "Oriton" Fowler, who had spent much of the previous year by Sebastian's side, had taken over the regional director job, but he couldn't keep things cool between Doc and Brimstone, partly because he traveled a lot.

In 2005, the Angels lost their parking contract and their major source of funding. A few months later, Brimstone moved the Angels' headquarters from their historic stamping grounds on Colfax to a place on Santa Fe — a decision that upset some of the members and hurt recruiting.

In early 2007, after returning from Vancouver, Sebastian decided it was time for him to return to the Angels to help rebuild. The move was hard on Oriton because Sebastian critiqued his decisions, acting like a backseat driver, but one without sufficient short-term memory to know the directions. Eventually, Sebastian says, it became too much for Oriton to bear, and the two had a falling out. Oriton left the Angels. He didn't return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment for this story.

"I don't know what I could've done differently," Sebastian says. "I was injured. I wasn't myself in many ways. I had to grow back into my own ability to do my own life, let alone the Guardian Angels. So I did some damage to the group in that way."

After Oriton left, Jag was enlisted to lead the western region, but he was also in charge of dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, so he had to manage Denver business from afar. Neither Doc nor Brimstone liked Jag's style, which they considered too aggressive for Denver, and both left shortly thereafter.

Soon the Denver chapter was down to just two or three members.

After Sebastian's return to Denver, Shauna decided to take Rooks to Nashville, where she could pursue her music career. She asked Sebastian to go with her, but he insisted on getting his own apartment in Capitol Hill and taking care of himself.

"There's a lot of layers of difficulty: There is the difficulty of losing a partner and losing a father for your kid and your confidant and your best friend," Shauna says. "And on top of that, he changed very much. His behaviors were different than they used to be. He would never yell or have a hair-triggered temper, and after the brain injury, he did."

Although she knows that's normal for someone with a brain injury, "after a year and a half, I couldn't do it anymore," she adds. "I didn't want to raise Rooks in that environment, and I had no idea what the future held. I still don't. We don't have a fairy-tale ending here, and that's okay with both of us; we'll deal with it. But we're not going to stop loving each other and having love for our child, pretending what happened to us didn't, because it did, and what happened sucked, and I wish I could change it every day."

"This injury has affected me. It's made me do things I'm not proud of. I was moody and angry, and I snapped at people, and I snapped at my wife," Sebastian says. "I was behaving more like some kind of degenerate than Sebastian Metz, Guardian Angel, this guy that my wife had married that was pure of heart."

But he's also gained an appreciation for things he didn't have before. "I reconnected with my family," he continues. "I know I will not abuse time the way I did — time is precious. I'll never work as long as I once did, I'll work as hard, but I'm not going to spend my whole life working. That's what I did before. I did the job all the time; 24/7 was the deal. I spent all my time working, coming home late, going in early, skipping lunch.... The Angels are important, but my wife and son, it's not even close."

The Angels still pay Sebastian a small stipend, and he still does regional work, recruiting and helping to develop new chapters. He plans to get the newsletter back out. Under the leadership of Arch Angel, who took over in January, the chapter has moved back to Capitol Hill, and membership stands at about ten Angels. At Sebastian's request, even Doc has returned to help.

Outside of New York, where Sliwa has always held things together, every chapter in the country has gone through something like this, Sebastian says. And Sebastian was usually the one who revived them. So before he moves to Nashville, which he plans to do, he hopes to pull one more Angels chapter back together.

"The Sebastian you deal with now, he's brick," Sliwa says. "That's the highest compliment we can give to a Guardian Angel.He's been to hell and back, and he's ready to do it again — there's no stopping him.... He's a living, walking, breathing example that somebody can make a difference.

"We're in 102 cities and ten countries, and I've dealt with tens of thousands of Guardian Angels over the years, and there is nobody that can come close to this guy. We need him now more than ever before in Denver."

Sebastian's small apartment has a kitchen and a bathroom and a bedroom that doubles as a living room and office. Inside the lone closet, he keeps a couple of big boxes filled with old newspaper clippings about the Angels from Europe and Australia and Denver and New York. When he's not walking the streets, he spends much of his time writing about growing up, about the Angels and life after surgery, choosing a topic depending on his mood. One day he hopes to publish his work, to get it all out, but right now it's more like therapy for him. It helps with his memory.

All of his income goes to insurance, medication, rent and food. His sister pays for him to have a cell phone, and Shauna helps him out, too.

"In the future, I hope to be smarter with my time," he says. "I want to make sure that what I do has a bigger impact on things and on the community. I think the stuff with the Angels is a good program, but I think the world is changing.... The need for patrols is still there, but I think there's a growing need for working with young guys before they turn into the criminals.... I'm more interested in preventative work. Intervening was an immediate feeling, gratifying, but now I can no longer do that. I want to turn my efforts to those things that can have long-term impact on people."

Like the impact he had a dozen years ago on the kid who fell off the skateboard that Sebastian hopes will be Denver's newest Angel.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Luke Turf