This Guardian Angel Bleeds Red

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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.

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Luke Turf