CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Chris and Denise Arthey moved to Houston from London, England in 2007. Chris was relocated for a work assignment in the oil and gas industry. In May 2008 their lives changed forever on a road trip down to Corpus Christi, on their Harley-Davidson.
“I remember the tone in the voice of the first responders on the scene and the dispatch and this radio traffic is just going everywhere. It’s one of those that let you know this call’s different,” said Amy Willey, a former paramedic with Refugio County Memorial Hospital.
While riding their motorcycle down highway 35, Chris and Denise were hit head on by a drunk driver.
“Well we don’t actually have any memory of the crash, which is probably a good thing,” said Chris.
It was a year later when the crash was reconstructed in a courtroom and the Arthey's learned what happened. The truck in front of them veered off the road as a red SUV had swerved onto the wrong side of the road. The SUV hit the Arthey's bike head on as well as a truck behind them.
Willey was a paramedic on the scene. Along with her unit was Tivoli volunteer fire department and Halo Flights brought in two helicopters. She said it was chaotic, didn’t know where to begin. Her training taught her to take a deep breath and instincts would kick in.
“I did not expect them to, either one of them, to survive," she said. "His leg was mangled very bad, but still attached he kept asking about his wife.”
Denise had her left leg amputated immediately. Her left arm and hand were broken and degloved, the skin had been ripped off. She also had a concussion.
Chris had it worse, Denise said. Broken ribs, punctured lung and spleen, broken left arm and hand and a concussion. It would be later on that Chris learned his left leg would also need to be amputated.
Chris was a runner. He had run the major marathons across the world. He also prided himself on being cautious and competent on his motorcycle.
“I really struggled with it, largely because of the athletics because I had this image of myself as an athlete and now I was permanently disabled.”
It took months of rehab and learning to walk again to return to a normal life.
What kept them going was the support around like, especially from their church in Houston. The church paid for the Arthey's children to fly over from England and paid for expenses. They paid for remodeling of their home to accommodate wheel chairs. They provided them with meals.
“Incredible support from church, from family, from friends. Both practical both emotional,” said Denise. "But of course our faith as well."
"Even if we didn't need a meal, didn't need transport, didn't need housework help they would call in anyway," said Chris. "Just come in, have a cup of tea or coffee. Sit and chat for an hour and just make sure we were OK. And that was a daily life line for us."
"And then they'd take us out," Denise said. "I went out with a friend, in the wheel chair, we went out for coffee. The men took you out."
"Every two weeks the men would kidnap me," Chris joked. "Take me to a film, or bar, or something like that. Just treat me like a normal bloke, as we say in England."
Now 14 years later, the Arthey’s are connecting with their paramedics, halo flight operators and physiotherapists that helped them on that life-changing day.
They shared their stories with several groups while back visiting Texas. On Thursday some of these people joined the Arthey's at Del Mar College as they spoke to students and first responders in training.
“You don’t know the outcomes of patients. You never know if the training I received and the stuff I did on scene did it save them?" Willey asked. "All those little things I got to hear back that it was helpful it did save a life.”
She encourages everyone to reach out to those nurses that care for you, paramedics, firefighters because a little note can lift their spirits.
About a year after the crash, Chris found a way to get back to being the runner that he is.
"If there was a way back into, then I was going to find it," said Chris. "And with the help of the prosthetics industry and the medics and the support from Denise and others, it's proved possible."
Chris is back to running marathons, he's taken up cycling and learned to swim. Not to mention he's become a climber. Chris showed off his photos after hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro and to Everest Base Camp.
He’s also returned to Texas to take part in the ironman in Waco on Oct. 16.
“Now when i’m training and racing I’m really not thinking about being an amputee, it’s all about chasing down the competitor in front,” he said.
Denise has been an educator and continues to volunteer at her local school.
In their story of perseverance, they’ve written a book “Highway 35” hoping their story can help others.
“Our message is that it is possible to meet disaster head on with hope," said Chris. "And it’s our prayer that anybody that reads this book will be able to face whatever they’re facing head on with hope.”
Long ago the Arthey’s forgave the drunk driver. in their crash. They even visited him in jail and struck up a relationship. They chose to protect his identity and didn't reveal his name in their book. They did add the man received four months of jail time plus probation. Five people including himself were injured in the crash. The Arthey's reconnected with the man when they returned to Texas, having dinner with the man and his wife.