Benefit held for Stillwell

Steamboat resident showing signs of improvement

In a long and uncertain path to recovery, the friends and family of Chris Stillwell measure progress one step at a time.

On Tuesday, in room No. 354 at Denver Health Medical Center, Stillwell spoke for the first time since entering a coma Dec. 15 after falling down a flight of stairs at the Nite's Rest Motel he owns with his wife, Cindy.

It was just a faint "hi" in response to a greeting from longtime friend Ted Sells, but the lone word was cause for celebration for all of Stillwell's well-wishers.

Then came Wednesday, when Stillwell spoke a second word, a soft "yep" in response to a question from his brother. Doctors completely removed Stillwell's tracheotomy tube and his father was allowed to squeeze water from a sponge into his son's mouth. Jell-O might be next.

"We haven't had a setback yet," said Sells, who drives from Evergreen to Denver to visit Stillwell daily. "It's just a slight improvement each day."

But despite the signs of encouragement, Sells and the Stillwell family know a long road remains ahead.

"In talking with doctors, there's going to be a long-term recovery," Sells said Thursday.

Family has been at Stillwell's side throughout his hospital stay, and doctors say daily interaction such as talking to him and showing him pictures are important to recovery.

Cindy visits her husband as often as she can, but with three children -- one in town on a college break and two more enrolled in a Steamboat school -- and a business to run, frequent trips to Denver are difficult. Combined with the absence of a long-term care facility in Steamboat, the Stillwell family plans to move Chris to a facility in San Diego, where his parents and brothers reside.

A medical flight to transport Chris from Denver to San Diego will cost $9,000 and isn't covered by insurance, Sells said. In addition, most long-term care centers in San Diego charge between $387 and $425 a day, 70 percent of which will be covered by insurance.

Sells hopes a benefit being organized for Chris at the Denver Chop House and Brewery on Sunday will help offset some of the medical expenses facing the Stillwell family.

The benefit will run from 5 to 8 p.m. in the restaurant's Caboose Room. The restaurant is near the intersection of 19th and Wynkoop streets near Coors Field in lower downtown Denver.

Food will be provided by a friend at no charge, and the Chop House has agreed to donate 100 percent of all beer-sale proceeds during the benefit to a fund established in Chris' name. In addition, raffle tickets will be sold at the door for prizes including autographed Colorado Avalanche memorabilia and game tickets. Cash and check donations also will be accepted.

Guests will be able to record messages on a videotape that the family will show Chris during his recovery.

"I really want to set it up as a fun night, not a bad night," Sells said.

More than 60 people have confirmed their attendance already, Sells said, and he asked anyone planning on attending to RSVP to Denverbenefit@chrisstillwell.com by Saturday morning so he can give the restaurant a firm number of attendees. Anyone with items to donate to the raffle or silent auction should include that information in the RSVP e-mail.

Alpine Taxi has volunteered a 28-seat van to transport friends from Steamboat to Denver for the event. Anyone interested in riding the free shuttle must meet at the Meadows parking lot at 1:45 p.m. Sunday. Seats will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cindy said the outpouring of support the family has received is overwhelming.

"We're so grateful for every little gesture from anybody," Cindy said. "We don't expect people to go down there. I don't want people to think we are expecting any of this."

For more information on the benefit or for updates on Chris' condition visit www.chrisstillwell.com.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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