Brian Slater's friends believe he's a miracle man.
Exactly one year ago, the 52-year-old Newport Beach paramedic
spiraled into a coma after a bodysurfing accident near Orange Street,
not too far away from his home.
On Monday, wearing a brightly colored shirt, shorts and his
trademark broad smile, Slater celebrated his recovery from what could
have been a fatal or debilitating injury with family and friends at
the Catalina Fish Kitchen.
Bob Blanchard, who still has a hard time talking about the day of
the accident, said he never thought his friend would make it all the
"I thought he'd fight back to where he'd get better," he said.
Blanchard pulled him out of the water off Colton Street with the
help of another lifeguard. At first, he didn't know the person who
had gone under was his friend. Blanchard just thought he was going to
help a stranger.
"It's hard for me to even think about it," he said. "I flipped
this person over, and it was Brian. At first, I thought he was
playing a joke or something."
But it was all too real and a huge shock for his friends and
colleagues at the Fire Department. Slater had trained some of the
paramedics who responded.
The situation was stressful to say the least, said Battalion Chief
George Pearce, who was on call that day.
"It was extremely hard on those who worked that call," he said.
"But they did a great job."
Slater's popularity in the department and the community drew
crowds to the emergency room and hospital waiting rooms. The city
even set up a website to keep people updated on his recovery.
It was a step-by-step recovery for Slater, longtime friend John
"First he opened his eyes, which was a big deal," he said. "Then
he reached out and squeezed hands, and then he started recognizing
Slater's recovery bears testament to his tenacity and strong will,
Newport Beach paramedic Jeff Boyles said.
"He is a very special person who always wants to help," he said.
"Six months after his accident, I saw him at the beach getting rid of
trash. It's the kind of person he is."
Slater underwent extensive rehabilitation and still goes to
Coastline Community College four days a week to a special class for
people with acquired brain injuries. He still struggles with
short-term memory but does well when it comes to remembering events
from many years ago.
"I remember things a lot of people find difficult to remember,"
Slater said. "But I have trouble remembering things that are very
easy for others to remember."
Going through the motions and the recovery process were the
biggest challenges, he said.
"But I'm glad I have the support and the wherewithal, which made
it all possible," Slater said. "I'm thankful that I still have
memories and I know right from wrong."
When he recovers completely, Slater wants to help someone going
through what he went through.
"So many people were nice to me," he said. "I want to be nice back
Last year was a rough year for the Newport Beach Fire Department,
said Pete Hadley, support services captain. The department lost Al
Schmehl, who died of brain cancer in August. Slater retired in
February after his injury.
Another irreparable loss for the department was the death of
Training Division Chief Randy Scheerer in December. He died of a
sudden heart attack at age 53.
The entire department is ready to get past that year of tragedy,
"Hopefully, the worst is over," he said. "We're ready to move on
to better times."
* DEEPA BHARATH is the enterprise and general assignment reporter.
She may be reached at (949) 574-4226 or by e-mail at