Longform

This Guardian Angel Bleeds Red

Page 5 of 8

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.

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Luke Turf