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Rescuer's Accident Puts Him in Coma

A Newport Beach paramedic critically injured in bodysurfing accident is improving.

September 03, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A popular Newport Beach paramedic remained in critical condition Tuesday following a weekend bodysurfing accident that left him in a coma.

Brian Slater, 52, was reported to be in and out of consciousness at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, where as many as 60 friends, relatives and co-workers stood vigil in the halls.

"He's very well-known in the community," said Rich Thomas, president of the local firefighters union and a captain with the Newport Beach Fire Department, where Slater has worked for 27 years. "Brian is very bighearted -- not only as a paramedic, but as a person."

Slater was found floating face-down in the water near Orange Street in Newport Beach about 2:30 p.m. Saturday by children. Bob Blanchard, a friend who was there along with Slater's wife and 13-year-old daughter, said the paramedic -- an experienced bodysurfer -- probably hit his head on the sand.

"It could be as simple as [that] he took a wave, misjudged the shallowness and knocked himself out," said Blanchard, who has known Slater since 1970 when they worked as Disneyland lifeguards.

Not realizing the man in distress was his friend, Blanchard helped a lifeguard pull him out. "I got to him, flipped him over and saw it was Brian," he said, adding that Slater's wife, Liz -- also unaware -- kept calling for her paramedic husband to aid in the rescue.

"I can't even tell you how I felt," Blanchard said. "I started yelling at him, thinking he'd come around."

When Newport Beach paramedics arrived, Blanchard said, more shock ensued: Virtually all of them had been trained by Slater and worked by his side.

After two days in a coma, Slater opened his eyes Tuesday.

"He appears to be more aware of his surroundings," the department reported on a Web site monitoring his progress, "but is not truly awake."

A Fire Department spokeswoman said it was too early to tell how much damage had been done. "He's still critical and on life support," said Donna Boston, adding that a fund has been set up to assist Slater's family.

Donations to the Slater family fund may be made by check, payable to NBFA Slater Fund. They may be mailed or delivered to the Newport Beach City Employees Federal Credit Union, 425 Old Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, CA 92663.

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