Chilliwack woman struck by train while trying to save man has partial hand amputation

17 months after Julie Callaghan was dubbed a hero she fights for normalcy and against ongoing pain

When Julie Callaghan was hit by a train trying to save a man in a wheelchair stuck on the tracks nearly a year and a half ago, she was told by a doctor she could go back to work in three months.

But 16 months and 25 days after a CN Rail train travelling at 80 km/h hit her at the Broadway rail crossing in Chilliwack, she has now had a partial amputation done on her hand.

Julie Callaghan’s hand after treatment she received for being hit by a train on May 26, 2018 trying to save a man in a wheelchair on the tracks. (Submitted)

Part of her hands and two-and-a-half fingers were removed on Oct. 21 leaving her with, as the surgeon put it, a life-time project dealing with her right hand.

Callaghan struggles every day with financial woes, frustration dealing with the medical system, and physical pain, all things that in some way serve as a distraction from the trauma of what she endured and what happened to the man she and another woman tried to save.

It was precisely 5:33 p.m. and 27 seconds on May 26, 2018 when Matthew Jarvis rolled southbound in a motorized wheelchair on to the CN tracks at Broadway. Fifty-nine seconds later, after stopping between the two sets of tracks looking west and then east, he changed directions and the rear wheels of his chair got stuck in the tracks.

Eight seconds later, the crossing arms began to descend, lights flashing, bells ringing.

Callaghan and another woman were stopped at the crossing, saw what was about to happen, and sprung into action. They got the two rear wheels out, but they couldn’t move the wheelchair as the train was less than 600 feet away bearing down on them.

At 5:34:04 the train struck Jarvis, killing him. Callaghan and the second motorist attempted to jump clear, but Callaghan was struck.

She was immediately called a hero by many.

“This woman was a true hero,” Mary-Jane Warkentin wrote on a Facebook post. She was driving up to the tracks and saw what happened. “She ran from her car to try to save the man and ended up injured due to her heroic action.”

That label of heroism was later made formal when the U.S.-based Carnegie Hero Fund Commission recognized her with a Carnegie Medal, something awarded to individuals who risk their lives saving or attempting to save others.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack woman who tried to save man stuck on rail tracks called a ‘hero’

• READ MORE: Heroism medal for Chilliwack woman who tried to save man in a wheelchair stuck on rail tracks

That was all great, but Callaghan is now left with the physical and mental aftermath, the bills, but also some guilt.

“I’m not going to say too much about it because it makes me so sad,” she said, welling up with emotion in her Fairfield Island home. “It doesn’t take much to trigger it, but how can I be sad about this when I’m here?

“People say ‘you are so strong.’ No, I’m just so incredibly grateful that I’m here to celebrate my daughter’s engagement. How can I be anything but strong and appreciative and grateful when it could have been so much worse.”

Despite that often positive outlook, the pain is substantial, often working to distract from her mental trauma. For more than a year after the incident, part of her hand was stuck in a painful claw position. Now, two weeks after the surgery that removed part of her hand, she suffers from phantom pain. All along she has also suffered with a rare condition known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), a condition that is often associated with trauma and is considered a neurological condition, but is believed to be caused by damage to the peripheral nervous system.

A key symptom is severe pain that can be constant, a burning, pins-and-needles sensation. CRPS can also lead to, and does in Callaghan’s case, drastic changes in skin temperature and colour. The abnormal circulation can lead to vastly different feelings in her injured hand and her unaffected limb.

“When I have a flareup it can get really, really hot… and then goes corpse cold,” she said. “You don’t control your blood. My nervous system is messed up.”

And while the pain and the condition may be with her forever, given how expensive CRPS treatment is, what she is after is hand functionality in the form of a myoelectric prosthetic, something that costs between $80,000 and $100,000.

Her life has become consumed by medical appointments, surgeries, hospital visits and hand therapy, but she is really hoping she can fundraise money to pay for the prosthetic.

“This is what my life is like. It’s been absolutely all consuming.”

Callaghan is hoping to raise funds through a GoFundMe so she can get a sense of normalcy back in her life. She wanted to talk about her recent amputation, her sense of being now, and the road ahead, in part to spur on the GoFundMe but also to update those who have donated already.

“I feel an ethical and moral sense to show them where their money is going,” she said.

A couple of days before the surgery, she shared a video on YouTube to supporters announcing that the amputation was finally scheduled.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Every five days a person dies in an accidental fatality on a rail line in Canada, according to CN Police. Matthew Jarvis, 40, died at this spot on May 26, 2018 when the wheelchair he used got stuck in the tracks. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress file)

Just Posted

Greg Sabatino photo - Williams Lake Tribune
SLIDESHOW: Nesika celebrates Halloween with costume parade, dance

Classes took turns within their own cohorts taking part in each event

The Williams Lake Skating Club is thrilled to introduce new coach Brenda Boulin (right) to its team. Boulin joins head coach Joanne Macnair (centre) and coach Breanna Davidson. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake Skating Club welcomes new coach to team

WLSC longtime head coach Joanne Macnair is thrilled to welcome Brenda Boulin back home

While the weather in Williams Lake wreaked havoc on roads and flooded homes this week, the swans didn’t seem to mind it at all. (David Fait photo)
Waterlogged: Williams Lake downright soggy after days of rain

October has seen an unusual amount of rain fall in the Cariboo this year

Roberts Drive resident Lisa Tarlings awoke at 6 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 to water roaring down the driveway. She and other residents began working to try and divert the water off the road into the ditch. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune.
‘I could hear the water roaring outside’: Williams Lake homes flood after snow, heavy rain

Bette McLennan has lived in her home 41 years and this is the worst it’s ever been

Sooke’s Paul Larouche enjoys gold panning along the Sooke River, looking for small treasures. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
VIDEO: Island man finds niche audience by gold-panning on YouTube

Paul Larouche, 29, with over 215,000 subscribers, opens up about his journey

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Most Read