Tears stream down your face/When you lose something you cannot replace/Tears stream down your face/And I will try to fix you... Cold Play
CORPUS CHRISTI – Chris Arthey slowed his motorcycle down to about 55 mph so he could talk to Denise, his wife.
That’s about the speed you can carry on a conversation over the road noise.
“Denise, this is a dream come true. It’s a beautiful day in May,” Chris said to Denise.
He thanked Denise for coming with him on a beautiful ride to South Texas from Houston, where they had recently moved.
Then, about six miles south of Tivoli on state Highway 35, he saw in an instant that a vehicle was bearing down on his bike for an inevitable head-on collision.
Those are the memories he pieced together after the wreck that happened at 2:34 p.m., May 16, 2008.
The accident report stated the vehicle driven by a drunken driver was traveling about 80 mph and had veered into the southbound lane when it struck Chris and Denise.
“At the time, I was in the process of transferring a patient from one hospital to another,” said Refugio paramedic Amy Willey.
She explained the critical situation to the patient who was waiting, and he was fine with the delay.
“I was in the second ambulance that got sent out there,” she said.
“When we got there, it was something like you see in the movies – dozens of cop cars and responders,” Willey said.
Cars were backed up from the scene in the southbound lanes “as far as you could see,” she said.
Refugio paramedics Fern Boggess and Vernon Gresham were already at the scene.
Willey’s partner, Refugio paramedic Bill Paris, rushed to aid Denise.
“She was conscious, but they were concerned she had a head injury because she really wasn’t talking to us. It could have been shock or a head injury,” Willey said.
Willey went to Chris.
“He was responsive and talking the entire time. I asked him a bunch of questions,” she said.
“He did mention quite often that he was a runner and was going to Corpus Christi. I made my best effort to make eye contact, and he was very responsive,” Willey said.
“The amazing thing about it was they were both extremely calm,” she added.
Later at the hospital, Chris was in a coma.
“I am going to assume it was induced,” she said.
At the accident scene, Chris’s leg was open and shattered but still attached. Denise’s leg was not as attached as Chris’s left leg.
“He was having abdominal pain and I figured he had broken ribs, internal bleeding,” Willey said.
The general assessment was that Chris’s leg would have to be amputated.
And another concern was that Chris may have had a pneumothorax form, an air blockage between the lung and chest.
Willey said usually a needle is used to puncture the air bubble.
But rescue helicopters arrived at the scene.
“The helicopters got there quick enough. We did not have to treat for pneumothorax,” she said.
“Luckily, we are one of the few paramedic teams able to carry antibiotics to prevent infection.”
Denise was sent first on the PHI emergency helicopter, which took her to Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi.
The HALO emergency helicopter took Chris to the same facility.
“It was about 10 minutes difference,” Willey said.
“After that, we turned to our other three patients.”
The drunken driver in his pickup had swerved back into the northbound lanes after hitting the Artheys head-on only to cross into the southbound lanes again to hit another car with a husband and wife in it.
But none of the three had life-threatening injuries.
Willey said the other couple were driven to a Victoria hospital.
She and her partner drove the drunken driver to the same hospital the Artheys were taken to.
After it was all said and done, Willey said the 45-minute drive back to Refugio was a quiet, surreal one.
“We were thinking of all the stuff we did,” she said. She added that she was amazed at how focused she and her fellow paramedics were.
“As soon as it is over, you can feel the emotions and realize how life is precious. When I got back to the station, I had to call home,” Willey said.
“For weeks, I wondered about the Artheys,” she added.
It was five years later that Willey and the other paramedics heard from the Artheys.
Chris and Denise had lost their left legs but could have lost their lives. The couple also suffered damage and use of their left arms and hands, as well as Chris’s spleen.
After being in a coma for almost three weeks, Chris joined Denise, who was in intensive care for about a week.
Chris, who works for Exxon-Mobile, had loved running in addition to motorcycles. He had completed the world’s major marathons: London, Boston, Chicago, Berlin and New York. Denise was a school teacher.
Now, six years later, Chris and Denise, both 59 years old, have repaired and use prosthetic legs. Chris is running again and Denise is volunteering in school.
The British couple now live in Qatar, but they made an effort to travel to South Texas again to visit and thank paramedics who saved them.
On Friday, May 23, Refugio paramedics and EMS, meeting the Artheys at the Halo Flight headquarters near Alice, included Amy Willey, Vernon Gresham and Fern Boggess. Bill Paris, who now lives in Washington, was not at the reunion.
All remembered the terrible accident.
“I never get to hear feedback from a patient. In my 37 years, I might have met three patients,” said Boggess, 66, who is now retired and living in Tennessee.
Gresham, 55, who lives in Ganado, and Willey, 43, who lives in Ingleside, agreed that hearing positive feedback from patients affirms why they do their jobs to save and help people.
The Artheys thanked the paramedics and Chris said he was writing a book that would doubly thank the men and women who helped them.
A month ago, Chris said he ran a triathlon, including swimming, bike riding and a run.
Upon completing that event, he remembers thinking “I love this. It’s just a miracle. Running is still my best hobby.”
“I passed four people on the run,” he added, smiling.
He said his first run after the accident was about a year-and-a-half later.
Because he and Denise had no memory of the accident, they retraced their trip and found that they had stopped for coffee in Sealy and found the gray building that was among Chris’s camera photos: It was the Blessing Hotel. He surmises that is where they had lunch that fateful day.
“Even if the worst happens, it is no reason to be discouraged,” Chris said.
He and Denise now believe they have “an assignment” to spread that message of hope. Both have become devout in their beliefs and in God.
The worst is apparent when you see the Artheys.
“It is obvious to us. But everybody suffers. You can’t see them always,” Chris said.
The couple said they were flying back to Qatar Sunday, May 25.
But they leave knowing the Halo flight crew and Refugio paramedics were loved and appreciated.
“Whenever you have doubt for your work, and you get this (feedback), you know you made a difference,” Willey said.