In 2008, Kris Armstrong was driving between her two jobs when she got a call and the caller asked her to pull over. Then came news that would change the then-23-year-old's life forever: Her husband, Brandon Smith, had been in a car crash.
"They were unable to tell me if he was alive or not," the Texas resident told CBS News. "By the time they called me, it had already been, like, seven hours since the accident."
The two had married just two years earlier — when they both were 21. High school sweethearts, the two met when she was 16 and he was 15. She knew she wanted a family — and so did he.
But that plan had abruptly changed. Now, doctors were trying to save his life, and by the time she arrived at the hospital, he had fallen into a coma. When he woke up two months later, the Brandon she knew was gone. He now needed constant care.
"When someone has a severein a big way, you lose that person, but you gain somebody new," she said. "And it took me a long time to realize that."
She turned to God and asked for guidance. She still wanted a family, but it would be impossible to have that with Brandon. It would be one of the hardest decisions she'd ever make.
"I had made vows that I would be with him in sickness and health, and I took that very seriously," Armstrong said. "I didn't stay married to him, but I wanted to take care of him."
It broke her heart into a million pieces as she began the process of becoming his legal guardian by divorcing him. But she knew she was the best person to take care of him, so she showed the court by doing the things she'd always done.
"I took him to appointments. I advocated for him," she said. "I visited him almost daily. I took care of financial issues and managed all of his health care, his Medicaid, his Medicare, all of that."
At one of the final hearings, the judge asked her a specific question.
"She asked me, 'What will you do if you have a family someday? Will we be able to take care of Brandon? What will happen then?'" she said. "I told her, 'Nothing's going to change.'"
And nothing did change — not even when she met James Armstrong in 2014, then a single father with a young child. The first thing she told him about was Brandon.
"I have a former husband that I take care of and he's a part of my life and I realize that's a lot," she recalled telling him. "But if you're interested in dating me, that comes with the territory."
"It didn't bother me at all," James said. "It intrigued me more, because I knew that Kris had a good heart."
When Brandon and James met for the first time, Kris recalled Brandon asking James if he wanted to grab a beer. That sparked hope for her budding relationship.
"Of course, that made me happy." she said. "Brandon being at peace and being OK with being a part of our family the way it is is super important."
A year later, Kris and James were married and Brandon had a new protector. More than a decade after his accident, the love for Brandon has only grown with the couple's young children, who delight in the time spent with their "Uncle Brandon."
"They love to snuggle with him on the couch when he's hanging out," said Armstrong. "There's a lot of love — a lot of love there."
It's an unconditional love that other people have been moved by. When Armstrong first started sharing their family's story on TikTok, it went viral — generating millions of views.
"We've been living out the story, this kind of unique family situation for about — that I have for about 15 years," she said. "And I found that when I meet people, when I share my story and they share their stories, it's a way to connect. It's a way to share hope."
"[Brandon's] world got very small after his brain injury and it's sort of gotten bigger again," she said.
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