No one would have blamed Denise Arthley if she had been filled with anger after a drunk driver careered into her and her husband Chris, causing them both to have their left legs amputated. But instead of focusing on what she lost, Denise focused on what she still had with her faith guiding her through. Here’s her remarkable story.
If you’d told us beforehand about our life-changing accident, we’d have been absolutely convinced we could not have coped. Chris’ work as an engineer had taken us on assignment to Texas. On Friday 16 May 2008 we were touring South Texas on a motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson Road King. On Highway 35 a drunk driver veered across the road at 80mph and hit us head-on. It’s a miracle we both survived. The collision took some of the use of our smashed left arms and hands, Chris’ spleen – and both our left legs above the knee.
As I came round in hospital, I was aware of the bedclothes lying flat where my left leg should be. I had a huge plaster cast on my left arm and was in a lot of pain. I didn’t know then how badly injured Chris was. Our lives had changed in an instant. I did the only thing I could – I leant into my faith. We both come from families with a strong Christian faith that we had made our own at an early age. I recalled Romans 8:28 which speaks about God working all things together for good, and that became a scripture I hung onto with white knuckles. I was also comforted by the lilo of prayers supporting us. The way our family, friends, neighbours, Chris’ company and our US church rallied round us was just astonishing.
As I came round in hospital, I was aware of the bedclothes lying flat where my left leg should be.
To our surprise, we found we had no bitterness towards the drunk driver. We needed to put all our energy into recovering! It was the start of a long journey of rehabilitation, and we would have to learn to walk again on prosthetic legs. Being disabled in an able-bodied world confronted us. Every day was really a series of choices: keep persevering at therapy; choose to look at how far we had come and not how far there still was to go; be grateful for what we could do rather than dwell on what had been lost.
Of course, we had some awful days but, when one of us was down, the other was right there, knowing exactly what it was like and able to empathise and support. We’re also very competitive! Together we discovered new ways of doing things. We had great inspiration from other amputees. They were quick to encourage us – living examples of what life could be like again. They shared their experiences and told us that we would be just fine. Someone who has gone through a similar crisis and rebuilt their life is able to speak into our life in a way that no-one else can. Strangely, I could draw on memories of my grandfather too; “Gramps” lost his leg in the trenches in WW1. I was reassured that he lived a very active life and his disability was a normal part of my growing up.
I recalled Romans 8:28 which speaks about God working all things together for good, and that became a scripture I hung onto with white knuckles.
Being a woman, I struggled with the physical disfigurement. In the early days I remember vividly the shock of catching sight of the slim metal pole of the prosthesis. I used to sit with my legs crossed to hide the pole behind my good leg. Later on, I asked for a flesh-coloured cosmesis over the leg, to restore my self-confidence. I still miss wearing heels!
We know that life doesn’t always go to plan. Some things we face seem impossible. Amazingly, we found a resilience beyond ourselves. Now I’m back in the classroom as a volunteer, sing in a choir and I love gardening. Life is good, life is full again and every day is a gift.