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Two days earlier, Ana Garcia Serrano cupped her chin in her hand and peered out the kitchen window at the soft drizzle falling outside.

Sometimes family stresses are more than Daniel Garcia Serrano, 6, can bear and seeks a comforting hug from his father Roberto.


It was the first let-up all morning. She knew she should run outside and feed the family's pet rabbits. But the tranquil feeling was too precious to let slip away. She hugged it close a moment longer.

Roberto Garcia Serrano had ridden off on his bicycle, determined not to miss physical therapy for his work-related shoulder injury. Fidel and Daniel were at school. And Tito, the youngest, was napping on the fold-up bed his brothers shared in the family room.

Just then, a shiver coursed through Ana.

Unbidden came the old legend: When the living tremble, death has drawn near.

Chiding herself, Ana checked on Tito, then slipped out of the tiny northeast Anaheim home.

It was not a house, really. Just three rooms sparsely furnished Ð two beds, a dresser, a table Ð attached to the back of another residence.

During the summer it was stifling. Now, in early February, it managed to be cold and stuffy at the same time.

Ana drew in huge gulps of air, then stepped to the cages. The rabbits were Roberto's, but it was Ana who always ended up feeding them.

Suddenly, her left foot gave way. Pain shot through her ankle, bringing tears to her eyes. She looked down, thinking she'd stepped on something, but the ground was clear.

She limped back to the house. Tito still lay sleeping. She curled up next to him, hoping a little rest would ease the ache.

The pain grew worse every hour. By the time she'd walked Fidel and Daniel home from school, she had to bite her lip to keep from moaning. When Roberto returned from therapy, she was in bed with her leg raised.

It hurt so bad, she tossed and turned all night. Early in the morning, Roberto ran to a sobador, a healer, in the neighborhood. My wife is in pain, he told him. Come quickly.

The healer rubbed liniment on Ana's leg and told her it would be well by the next morning. But the pain, like a sly ghost, slipped into her other leg and made it ache, too. Bruises appeared on her left foot.

By midnight, Ana could hardly breathe. She called 911. Firefighters were confused by her symptoms. Her heart was galloping at 170 beats per minute. It should have been about 80. And her blood pressure was too erratic to measure. Quickly, the paramedics loaded her onto the ambulance and rushed her to Anaheim Memorial Medical Center.

In the emergency room, Ana was conscious but sliding into shock and showing signs of kidney failure. Dr. Paul Krasner, a kidney specialist, came in. Then vascular surgeon Dr. Douglas Brownell. They moved out of her hearing and had a hurried conversation.

The leg is gangrenous, Brownell told Ana and Roberto through an interpreter. We will have to take it off. Now.

Ana caught the look on Roberto's face. He was staring at her legs as if in torment.

Roberto loved her legs. Dancer's legs, he called them. Slim and supple, they made each step a movement of grace, he had shyly told her during their courtship.

Even now, Ana wore dresses and skirts just to please him, though jeans and shorts would have been more practical with three little boys underfoot.

She looked down at her legs lying useless on the examining table. The left one was mottled and swollen. The right was marked by an angry red rash. They could have been the twisted, broken limbs of a tree.

Next to her, Roberto began to stammer and shake. Tears coursed down his face.

She scolded him: "Stop it! You must be strong. I need you."

As Ana was wheeled to surgery, she glimpsed Roberto struggling to compose himself before facing their children in the next room.

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