Orin and Chartina Voorheis are no exception to lovey-dovey Valentine's Day traditions.
"Orin got me roses, candy and stuffed animals," Chartina said. "I came home and he just spoiled me, and all I got him was cologne. When I asked him if he got everything he wanted for Valentine's Day, he said, 'no' and then signed out 'four wheeler.' "
They are, however, the exception to the norm in many other ways.
Orin was shot in April 1997 while serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Argentina. Chartina was a student at Brigham Young University at the time. When Orin began therapy, the family asked for volunteers to help. Chartina's aunt, a neighbor of the Voorheis family, suggested that Chartina volunteer. She worked with him for five and a half years, all while he was still a missionary. He was released as a missionary in November 2002, and the couple married on Dec. 26, 2002. While Orin is unable to walk or speak, he is able to communicate.
"Doctors are amazed," Chartina said. "The way the bullet bounced around in his brain, he shouldn't even be able to communicate. He can sign everything he needs. Orin loves living life."
She wished people understood them.
"We are normal people in an abnormal situation," she said. "Some people think we're perfect, but those close to us know we're not. Despite his injury, Orin still has the same hopes and dreams. His favorite color is still black, and he still loves motorcycles and rock and roll."
While some things are typical, Orin's day is atypical. He wakes at 6:30 a.m. and has to be fed pureed food. His water is gelled, but recently he began to drink from a water bottle. When Chartina goes to work, a home health employee comes to bathe and dress Orin. Employees feed him breakfast and lunch, which are lengthy processes. He still is fluent in Spanish, and two employees speak only Spanish when they come. He does therapy in between meals in an extended basement built with donated time and materials. A year and a half ago, he wanted a walking machine so his father built a harness to help him use the walking machine.
"His parents are very innovative," Chartina said. "If Orin has a dream, they figure out a way to help us achieve it. Orin misses driving the most and wants a truck. This was crazy, but last July his dad, brother and I took him to a fallow field and let him drive a truck. It was amazing to me how everything kicked in. He held that wheel just like he was a teenager again."
Chartina, a teacher at Lone Peak High School in Highland, says her husband is her teacher. She has an increased sense of focus and priority.
"There are some things that don't matter and some things that really do," she said. "I think people worry so much about money and appearances instead of just living and enjoying life. We let things bother us that just don't matter. For example, I was working on my Ph.D. and was beginning my dissertation. I got sick and Orin got really sick and ended up in the ICU. It made me realize how quickly life can change. I stopped my Ph.D. and it was the best decision that I ever made. Now is the time to be living. You don't put it off for five and a half years while you do something else. The doctorate was all for me. Orin was supportive, but it was all for me. Now we do things for us. We want to spend time together."
The couple enjoys supervising evening sporting events at Lone Peak High School. They love to travel and have been to Sea World, San Diego Zoo and Mount Rushmore. They want to get to Alaska. Chartina also goes with Orin to his job as a greeter at Deseret Industries.
Chartina said she's also learned a lot about the value of the individual.
"We all have abilities and disabilities," she said. "In society we compare people to other people a lot, but it's crazy because everybody has their strengths and weaknesses."
She said the life lessons she is learning impact her teaching.
"I try to find out what's going on with my students," she said. "A lot of them have serious things going on with health, family or self esteem. I try to be kind. Sometimes I can be an ornery teacher, but I try to work with them individually and focus on their strengths. They may not all love history or be great writers, but they each have their own strengths. I try to help them see each others' strengths and treat each other well. These students are going to go into the world and do great things. It will be so much better for them if they learn to embrace others' differences rather than fear them."
Chartina said the thing she likes best about Orin is his determination. When he gets an idea, he doesn't let go of it, like the driving. She said she also loves his attitude. He doesn't get angry that he is in a wheelchair. He just finds ways to do the things he wants to do. He laughs at everyone and everything and keeps things light. Ten years from now she said she hopes to be learning more of the same lessons.
"I hope we are enjoying life more and not worrying," she said. "Money and other things always work out. They always do. I want to enjoy life and put first things first."
Orin signed what he hopes for the next 10 years.
"Buying a truck." On a more serious note, answering what he loved best about his wife, he signed, "That she loves everybody." And it shows.