CINCINNATI (Brad Johansen) – It was just over six years ago that then-Bengals Receiver Chris Henry lost his life in an accident in North Carolina.
But his death was hardly the end of his story.
Carolyn Henry lost her son on that day in North Carolina.
Local 12 was able to meet with her and asked if she was willing to travel to reunite with the families whose lives have been forever changed by her decision to let Chris live on in others.
You see, her decisions led to allow her son Chris Henry to be an organ donor, and also a life saver.
It was December, on a winding Carolina road, that Chris Henry fell from the back of a truck. The incident resulted in the end of his life, and for his mother that moment is forever frozen in time.
That was six years ago, but for Carolyn the memory of that moment is still fresh: “Like it was yesterday,” said Carolyn, “Like it’s just the beginning.”
It should be noted that at the time of the deadly incident, the talented Bengals receiver hadn’t chosen on his license to be an organ donor. On December 17th of 2009, Carolyn was asked to choose for him.
“His heart was beating so fast,” said Carolyn. “Like his heart was beating into mine, and I got out of that room and said yes, and that’s when the journey began.”
A journey back to where his life ended, but also a journey that led to new beginnings.
“Chris loved family,” said Carolyn. “That was his heart, was family.”
It was much more than his heart
“I kept telling people it was Chris Henry,” said Deb Benton.
The feeling was overwhelming for Deb whose husband of 42 years got the call that two lungs were a match for transplant. They were a gift that gave James another 18 months.
“So what I do now is go out on Sundays and help people because of the courageous decision they made that gave me more time with my father, ” said James’ daughter Ashley.
Chris, the man teammates called “Slim,” had a touchdown celebration for his mother. He was that kind of player. That kind of guy. One love. One family.
Brian Polk was waiting 10 years for a kidney. “It was like being a prisoner in my own body,” said Brian.
Donna Arnold needed more than love to keep her family together. “Yes I was desperate,” Donna admits. “Because I didn’t want to die.”
Donna needed a kidney and a pancreas. Chris met that need.
Carolyn calls Donna her “best friend” and Donna calls Carolyn the “mother she lost.”
“I’m just happy six years later we see the progress,” said Carolyn. “The need to live on.”
Six years later, in the spot where life ended, now new life, Chris’ two sons, 8-year-old Chris Jr. and 7-year-old Demarcus join Carolyn and their mom Laney to reflect on how a place that created such sorrow for them has in turn created such joy for others thanks to one decision.
“We are family now, nothing can break us apart,” said Carolyn. “We’re connected.”
Tom Elliot, who received Chris’ lungs, has since passed.