The love story of Jeff Hartung and Angela Sartin-Hartung is truly unique. In some ways, it reads like a romantic movie script. In others, it is a real-world example of how devotion, faith, and perseverance can work together to rebuild a bond broken by tragic circumstances.
Hartung and Sartin-Hartung were married for 12 years when the unthinkable happened: an accident that left Sartin-Hartung with an acute traumatic brain injury and amnesia.
The amnesia seemed to erase the last 17 years of Angela’s life — including her memory of her loving husband — who has rarely left her side since, and began courting the woman he loves all over again.
Hartung tells Babble that his wife had been crossing the street in New York City when she was struck by a vehicle.
“Her head penetrated the windshield,” he explains. “The outlook was not good.”
Hartung says he stayed by his wife’s side for the next 30 days until she awoke from her coma. Sartin-Hartung was then transferred to a rehabilitation center, where the extent of the damage that the accident had on her cognitive functions and memory became more apparent.
According to Hartung, his wife was “very confused,” and had little to no memory of the last 17 years of her life.
“She was unable to formulate coherent thoughts or sentences,” he says. This continued for weeks.
“She was confused about so much, including our four children,” says Hartung. “She only remembered her two biological children and was confused why they were so old, as she expected them to be years younger. They were now 17 and 23.”
Sartin-Hartung had also tragically forgotten that her first husband had passed away, and had to grieve that loss all over again. She also forgot the 13 years she spent helping to raise Hartung’s two children.
It was a deafening blow to the family, but Hartung was determined to help his wife in any way he could.
“Angela’s memory was full of holes and gaps and even over the years, the memories haven’t come back,” Hartung says. “So, after many months of rehabilitation and healing, I began to focus on telling Angela the stories of her life, our lives, through conversation.”
Hartung says that he would take his wife on walks to places that he knew would be familiar to her, calling them “memory walks.”
“We would walk by, [and] she would sometimes say, ‘I think I remember this place,’ so I would take her in, and we would go from there. She seemed to enjoy this method the most.”
He then began to show her pictures and videos from her past.
As for their relationship, the couple had to start again from square one.
“Our relationship in many ways hit the reset button after the accident,” says Hartung. “My challenge was … doing it better the second time.”
It’s an incredibly romantic sentiment, and although it must have been so very difficult for Hartung to be in this position, he is full of empathy for his wife and all that she has had to endure.
“Angela had to grieve the loss of her first husband, again,” explains Hartung. “Grieve the loss of her father passing several years before the accident. Cope with not feeling as though she had been a part of raising the children to the wonderful individuals they now are.”
The silver lining is that the couple is facing these challenges together.
“Through it all, together, I’ve been thankful to have been the arm to steady her,” says Hartung. “The hand to help her in/out of the car, walking with her, talking with her, fixing meals together. Praying and going to church together. [Being] there for as many of the physical therapies and doctor appointments as possible. We have established a relationship where she has learned to depend, trust, appreciate, and over time [we] built a new relationship together.”
Hartung’s devotion to his wife, and his determination to rebuild their bond, is inspiring. He recently told ABC News that he felt like he was dating his wife all over again.
“Everything is a date,” he said. “We would go to the grocery store and it’s like a date.”
As for Sartin-Hartung, she told ABC News: “It is fun dating again. He’s just an awesome man.”
The “dating” seems to be working out beautifully, as the couple recently renewed their vows during a charming ceremony in Central Park.
Hartung believes that through it all, he and his wife were strengthened by their love and faith.
“While the injuries were horrific and unthinkable, we believe they will be used by God to accomplish what may not have been possible otherwise,” he says. “Hope in what is to come. Faith in what we believe. And the friendships and support of the community of individuals we are a part of. I don’t believe we could have done this on our own.”
We certainly wish their family all the best.