Danielle Henderson got one last look at her husband's blue eyes in the hospital room before he slipped away.
Henderson's husband, 46-year-old Chris Henderson, died Sunday of COVID-19 at University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, where he had been on a ventilator after cardiac arrest.
"They allowed me to go see him yesterday," Danielle told the Danville Register & Bee on Monday. "When I walked in, he had his eyes open. I got to see his beautiful blue eyes."
Chris Henderson's family described a man who was full of life, who loved sports and animals and who had started his own business — H and H Appraisal Services — just a few years ago.
He was into physical fitness and loved weightlifting, boxing, kickboxing and motorcycles. He also had coached a girls volleyball team in Pittsylvania County.
"He loved to be around the little girls and teaching them volleyball," said his father, George Henderson, who represents the Tunstall District on the Pittsylvania County School Board.
A 1992 graduate of Chatham High School, Chris Henderson was an only child.
"He was very charismatic, a very popular, dynamic personality," George Henderson said. "He was an extremely intelligent guy."
In late August, Chris Henderson developed a slight cough. He thought he had a sinus infection, his wife said. He was tested Aug. 22, and the results came back positive three days later.
Then, two days later, he started experiencing shortness of breath.
"He went to Moses Cone, and they sent him home," she said, referring to Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina.
But he developed a fever, and his coughing became more frequent. He went to Sovah Health-Martinsville on Aug. 29 and was admitted.
"It really hit his lungs hard at first," George Henderson said. "From there, it just went downhill."
Danielle Henderson, who is a registered nurse, said her husband had no serious underlying health issues except for high blood pressure, which was being treated.
He was on life support from Sept. 2 to Sept. 14 and then off for five days. Doctors put him back on life support, and on that same day, Sept. 19, he went into cardiac arrest and was dead for 10 minutes before being revived.
"They had to do CPR and bring him back," Danielle Henderson said.
If her husband had survived COVID-19 after that, he would have been in a vegetative state, she said. The lack of oxygen to his brain during those 10 minutes caused brain damage.
He was airlifted to UVa following his cardiac arrest and died Sunday after he was removed from a ventilator.
A close family
His aunt, Brenda Bowman, said Monday she is heartbroken.
"I loved him as much as my own," said Bowman, who is George Henderson's sister.
Bowman said one of her best memories of her nephew was when they — along with Bowman's husband, Ken — participated at Smith Mountain Lake in trying to break a record for the most floats hooked together on a lake for the Guinness Book of World Records, she said.
"We were together, hooked up to the floats for hours," she said.
She said Chris Henderson and his daughter, Lindsay, were close.
"We've really had a lot of good times as a family unit," Brenda Bowman said.
After graduating from high school, Chris Henderson attend Gardner-Webb University on a wrestling scholarship but decided that wasn't for him, his father said.
Chris Henderson earned associate degrees in HVAC and hotel management from Southside Community College. He was also a certified personal trainer and a certified dog trainer, his father said.
Danielle Henderson met her husband in 2015, when she was looking for a personal trainer and saw his Facebook page.
"I reached out to him," she said. "Who wouldn't want a personal trainer that looked like him?"
Their first meeting in August 2015 was like something from a Hallmark movie, she recalled. What was supposed to be a training session turned into a two-and-a-half-hour walk along the Riverwalk Trail and downtown Danville.
There happened to be a festival at the Community Market, she said.
"We had cotton candy and snow cones, and he gave me a balloon," she said.
She said, as they returned to their cars in the Biscuitville parking lot, where they had started their walk, a gnat went into her eye. Chris Henderson valiantly helped her remove it.
"He just a gentleman, very much a gentleman," she said.
They married at Ben David Jewelers on Valentine's Day in 2018, one of the free weddings offered at that business.
She said she is a better person because of him. Although she is afraid of heights, he inspired her to go skydiving in 2016.
"I totally stepped outside of my comfort zone with him," she said.
And his enthusiasm for fitness compelled Danielle to get into the best shape of her life.
He new he would die
George Henderson said his son contracted COVID-19 at his workplace at Hales Automotive in Eden, North Carolina, where Chris and Danielle moved from Danville about a year ago.
"His boss contracted it about a week before Chris became sick," George Henderson said.
In turn, Danielle Henderson caught the virus and had a rough battle with COVID-19. Although she still tests positive, she has no symptoms.
She said Chris Henderson told her on Sept. 2 that he knew he was going to die. On Sept. 19, just before he was put on the ventilator again, he told her again.
"I think God lets people know," she said. "He told me twice he wasn't going to make it."
She recalled his last moments in a room with a view of the mountains and the sun setting. She said she stayed with him for about an hour that day.
"I had just had to spend that time with him," she said. "He probably passed within minutes of discontinuing life support.
"I tried to memorize every part of him. I knew that we were making the right decision. I knew by his body that there was nothing more we could do."