The last thing Christopher Sullivan remembered before he was shot Dec. 23, 2011, was having a good time with friends at his homecoming party in San Bernardino.
The next thing he knew, he was waking up in a hospital as medical staff placed a tube down his throat. He cried, especially when several realities set in.
He was fighting for his life. And he knew he might never walk again.
"I'm still trying to accept it. It's way too hard," he said. "I'm not used to it."
Sullivan, 23, an Army specialist who survived a 2010 suicide bombing in Afghanistan, now lives with his family in San Antonio, Texas.
Two days before Christmas of that year, his friends and family threw him a welcome-home party in the 2800 block of Garner Avenue. An argument over football teams escalated into a fight, and during the brawl, Sullivan received gunshot wounds to his neck and buttocks.
He remains a quadriplegic.
It was a case that generated national attention, partly because the attack didn't occur in the Middle East, but on American soil.
Sullivan and his family received letters of support from friends and strangers around the country.
His mother, Suzanne Sullivan, says she was overwhelmed by the response.
"I haven't forgotten the people," she said. "They're in my prayers and I think about them all the time."
Because of his health and his family's protectiveness, Christopher Sullivan has not spoken publicly since the incident until now.
The fight was far from over.
While Sullivan's military brothers and sisters in the 101st Airborne Division were training and fighting elsewhere, Sullivan found himself lying in a civilian hospital bed for weeks.
His mother said she had to push to get her son moved to a military facility that could provide him further care.
Once he was ready for transfer Jan. 17, his mother and siblings uprooted their lives to follow him across the country. The Army assigned him to Fort Sam Houston in the San Antonio area.
But Sullivan faced setbacks in his recovery when he made it to Texas.
Sullivan suffered bedsores at one hospital. And he became critically ill with urosepsis - urine made its way into his bloodstream - at another, his mother said.
Sullivan remembers surgery after surgery, and four sessions a day of rehabilitation.
"It's been rough," he said. "It's been a crazy experience going through it."
The constant therapy helped him regain movement in both shoulders and occasionally his neck.
"But that's going away," he said.
His mother says the problem is that he hasn't had any physical therapy since he returned home in November.
She is trying to get authorization for her son to receive further treatment, but so far, he hasn't been considered a candidate, she said.
Army officials said they could not comment about the status of Sullivan's medical care due to privacy laws.
Suzanne Sullivan says her son can't talk about it because he's on active duty.
"But I'm a civilian and I'm going to speak up," she said.
The trial ahead
A San Bernardino Superior Court judge ordered Ruben Ray Jurado, the man charged in Sullivan's shooting, to stand trial in April.
Jurado's attorney, Michael Holmes, argued during the preliminary hearing that Jurado fired in self-defense because he was knocked to the ground, punched and kicked by people at the party after an argument about the Green Bay Packers turned into a fight.
But witnesses testified that Jurado pushed and then punched one of the partygoers before pulling out a gun and firing what Sullivan's brother, Brandon, described as a warning shot.
Christopher intervened, jumping on Jurado and wrestling with him for control of the gun.
It's unknown when the trial will begin.
"I'd like to get it started as soon as possible," said Deputy District Attorney William Lee.
Jurado is scheduled to return to court for a hearing on Jan. 4.
Lee said Jurado's attorney is waiting for some records for the case, so it's unknown when a trial date will be set.
Lee said expects to call Sullivan to the stand during the trial.
"His safety and his well-being and his health is important, but we intend to call him," Lee said.
Christopher's unsure what to think about the trial and his role in it.
"I guess we'll have to see when it's all over and everything," he said.
When asked what he would say to Jurado if he had the chance, Sullivan replies, "There's not much to say."
Home for Christmas
After spending the last several Christmases with the military or in hospitals, Christopher will spend Christmas at home with his family this year.
He says he's looking forward to it.
But being away from the hospital comes with other perks.
"It's better. I actually get some sleep now," he said.
His mother and his 22-year-old sister, Kristina Morales, have become his unofficial nurses, putting their own lives on hold to take care of him. Morales has postponed going to school to become a registered nurse so she can help her brother.
When he's not going to doctor appointments, Christopher says he spends time watching his brothers play the video game "Call of Duty," something he enjoyed before he was wounded.
He dreams of going back to school one day to become a music producer.
It's a major shift from his previous plans of leaving the Army to return to professional mixed martial arts training and competitions.
"I miss that. That was my passion," he said.
Christopher Sullivan said he didn't want anything for Christmas, but Texas-based Operation Finally Home had other plans.
The group, which helps disabled and wounded veterans, surprised Sullivan and his family Dec. 16 at a Houston Texans game. They're building a custom home for the soldier that should be completed in four or five months, his mother said.
The home will have large pathways to accommodate Sullivan's wheelchair, and will have voice-activated electronics.
"It's excellent," Suzanne Sullivan said. "It's very good for Chris."
The Texans donated $20,000 to the project and also gave Sullivan a football autographed by the team.
Donations to Operation Finally Home can be made to 1659 State Highway 46 West, Suite 115-606, New Braunfels, Texas 78132.
Letters may be sent to Sullivan at P.O. Box 8111 Mainland Drive, Suite 104, No. 162, San Antonio, Texas 78240.
Reach Melissa via email or call her at 909-386-3878.
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