Couple still together through the toughest of times
When Pete and Charmaine Runnels took their wedding vows, they took them seriously. Particularly the phrase about “….for better or worse, in sickness and in health.”
Pete, former Orange County judge and present mayor of Pinehurst, and his wife have been married for 33 years through the most challenging of times and they are still together.
Charmaine suffered from two brain aneurysms about 20 years ago. Since then, it has been one day at a time for the couple.
“We were married in December 1981. It was the year before my term as county judge ended,” Pete said. “We met at a dance. We dated a while. I wanted a stable home environment.”
The couple were married in Pete’s home by Martin Ardoin, the justice of the peace in Bridge City. Pete’s oldest son came to live with them. His other son moved in too. Charmaine’s daughter moved in as well.
“I couldn’t ask for anyone to be nicer to my children than she was,” he said.
One morning, about 10 years later, Pete was getting dressed and leaving for work. Charmaine was still in bed. He kissed her on the forehead and headed out the door.
Later that day, Pete received a phone call he needed to get home. His wife attended a funeral where she passed out and stopped breathing. Fortunately a nurse was in attendance at the funeral and helped Charmaine regain her breathing.
She was taken to Orange Memorial Hospital where Pete found her lying on a gurney. He said Charmaine then let out a blood-curdling scream. The staff immediately ran tests on her.
They said Charmaine needed to get to Beaumont as quickly as possible.
When they arrived at Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital, they discovered she suffered an aneurysm that busted inside of her brain. The doctor wanted to wait 10 or 12 days so the aneurysm would stay contracted. If it was touched there was a chance it could cause a stroke.
On the next day, however, another aneurysm in her brain ruptured. The doctor said he only had 30 minutes to locate it by hand because there was no technology available to locate it.
Afterward, Charmaine was in a coma for 13 days and on life support for 20 days. In fact, she has been dead five different times and brought back to life.
Her doctor next wanted to see if she was eligible for rehabilitation. Pete feared the staff would say she wasn’t eligible, so he helped out.
He gathered all the available pillows and sheets from nearby vacant beds. He propped up Charmaine with the pillows and covered them with the sheets so no one could tell what happened and it appeared she was ready for rehab.
“It worked!” Pete said.
Charmaine spent three months in the hospital. Pete also spent the majority of his days and nights there.
His mother, sister and youngest son would sometimes come to the hospital so Pete could take some breaks.
Pete owned a furniture store at the time. His son just graduated from college. He quit his job so he could run the store while his dad was out so it wouldn’t shut down. He only took a minimum compensation in return.
Charmaine couldn’t talk or walk when she got home. She could only eat.
Pete taught his wife to walk again by wrapping a weight lifter’s belt around her to hold her up. They first walked around the house and then progressed to walking in the yard.
He had to clean, dress and cook for his wife for 30 days because there was no one else to help.
“I treated her the way I thought she would like to be treated,” he said.
She also learned to talk again during this time.
Later, Charmaine had providers in the home 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Pete would let them off on Thanksgiving and Christmas and he looked after Charmaine.
Her doctor, though, said eventually Charmaine should be in a nursing home in a controlled environment.
“It was the best thing we could have done for her because she was aggressive,” Pete said.
Prior to all of this Charmaine showed no signs she had an aneurysm. Two of her sisters, however, died from them.
“Aneurysms are first cousin to a stroke,” Pete said doctors had told him. “Her doctor said you don’t live with two aneurysms, but Charmaine did.”
Pete said he visits her every Sunday and often times more than once a week. He brings her all of her favorite snacks to last throughout the week and a fried shrimp dinner from Hush Puppy Seafood Restaurant on Sundays.
He also gives her big birthday parties including decorations, birthday hats, cake and presents. For Christmas, he gives her lots of presents throughout the day since she can’t remember things.
“We make a whole day of giving presents,” he said.
Charmaine grew up in Orange and graduated from Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School.
Pete said she loved to cook. He said her gumbo was better than anyone else’s he has tasted in his life.
He added she was always late and he joked she couldn’t be on time if her life depended on it.
“I have more respect for her than anyone,” Pete said. “She has never given up. She still has a lot of her old personality. She’s always been the life of the party. She messes with her nurses. They enjoy her because she’s not a problem.”
Pete then gave his motivation for everything he does for his wife:
“I’m so sentimental, but I can’t say why some people will walk away in a year or two. I can’t imagine walking away from a loved one when they need your help,” he said. “The person it’s hard on is Charmaine, not me. She lives with it 24 hours a day.”
Photo – Pete Runnels, former Orange County judge and current mayor of Pinehurst, holds the only picture he has of his wife from her driver’s license. He lost the other photographs of her in a house fire. Pete has been married to his wife, Charmaine, for 33 years. She has been ill from two ruptured brain aneurysms and Pete has looked after her ever since.
RECORD PHOTO: Mark Dunn