'It's just all-consuming': Chilliwack woman who tried to save someone's life undergoes partial amputation
CHILLIWACK, B.C. - Julie Callaghan of Chilliwack is now recovering following partial amputation surgery to one of her hands last week.
“It’s definitely been a challenging 17 months,” Callaghan told CTV News Vancouver.
That’s how long it’s been since she suffered a debilitating injury while she and another woman tried to rescue a man whose wheelchair was stuck on train tracks. They were not able to save 40-year-old Matthew Jarvis, and Callaghan’s hand was hit by the train in the process. She said the injury also triggered complex regional pain syndrome, which causes strange sensations, pain and sensitivity.
On Oct. 21, Callaghan had some of her fingers and part of her hand removed. She said while she is experiencing what’s known as phantom pain, or the feeling that her missing fingers are still there, she’s also noticed some improvement.
“I was able to unlock my deck door. I’ve never done that. I usually do it with my left hand. So today, just seeing that I was able to do one small thing that I haven’t done for over a year with those fingers out of the way was huge for me,” Callaghan said.
She said she has weeks of healing ahead of her before she can start taking steps towards getting a partial hand prosthetic. The kind she’s hoping for is known as a myoelectric device, which is controlled using electrodes and muscle signals.
“Opening doors properly, picking up bags, carrying things – just open up the world that I’ve kind of lost,” Callaghan said.
Prosthetist Jesse Spellen with the Barber Prosthetics Clinic in Vancouver said myoelectric devices offer “a little bit more free range of motion”. He said they can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 or more, and they can’t yet determine the exact cost Callaghan could be facing.
“We have yet to see Julie since the amputation so we would really have to focus on what her hand looks like and what function she still has left,” Spellen said.
Callaghan said her insurance does not cover this kind of injury. Previously, the health minister said the province would look into her case. A claim for the prosthetic has not been submitted yet, as Callaghan still has to heal. She has been collecting donations online, but remains unsure how she’ll be able to pay for everything.
“There’ll be updates in technology, there’ll be lost fingers, there’ll be battery packs that need, you know, replacing,” she said.
“As my surgeon put it, this is going to be a lifetime project for me.”
Callaghan said she is headed back into physiotherapy for her hand, and remains hopeful.
“It’s just all consuming. And it hasn’t stopped. But it is what it is.”
Callaghan was awarded the Carnegie Medal for her heroic actions, and has also been recognized by the RCMP for bravery.
The online fundraiser to cover the cost of Callaghan's prosthetic can be found here.