Carnegie hero memorializes act with forearm tattoo

Julie K. Callaghan
Julie K. Callaghan shows the tattoo she commissioned that memorializes the heroic act in which she gravely injured her hand attempting to save a man in a wheelchair from being struck by a train, May 26, 2018, in Chilliwack, B.C.

On the outside of Julie K. Callaghan’s forearm, just above her wrist, a reminder in black ink spells out “50 mph” in slanted script with an arrow extending from the end of the “h” toward her hand, itself a reminder.

That tattoo details the speed of the train when it hit her hand while she attempted to rescue 40-year-old Matthew Jarvis, whose motorized wheelchair became stuck on railroad tracks May 26, 2018, in Chilliwack, B.C.

Callaghan, who at the time was a 44-year-old vocational counselor of Chilliwack, had stopped her vehicle at the crossing, as the gates descended and warning lights flashed.

As a train approached she saw that Jarvis was stuck. She darted beneath the crossing gate and, with another woman, attempted to lift and pull the wheelchair from the path of the train. With her back to the train, they tried twice unsuccessfully to free the chair.

Callaghan looked over her shoulder and saw the train bearing down on them.

Jarvis was killed. Callaghan suffered severe injuries to her hand which after 17 months of recovery and rehabilitation resulted in a partial amputation.

She is still in chronic pain.

Callaghan commissioned the tattoo last fall.

Although she said that she knew she wanted a tattoo to remember her heroic act and Jarvis, pulling the trigger was spur of the moment, during a trip to Las Vegas that she had won.

“I wasn’t sure about when or where I was going to get it, but then you get to go to Vegas for free. I kind of thought, ‘Hey! I’m here, so let’s do it,’” Callaghan said. “It was something I had been thinking about since my cast came off, and the timing was just right.”

She went to the tattoo parlor her husband had visited a few years back and collaborated with the tattoo artist to finalize her design.

Callaghan said she originally considered getting the tattoo on her hand, but ultimately decided the pain would have been too much. Instead, the arrow points to her injured hand.

“I wanted to be able to know what I had done. I wanted to know why my hand was the way it was, and for other people to see. A lot of the time, people did not believe that I was actually hit by a train. I would say, ‘Yes, and it was going 50 miles an hour. Look!’ And show my tattoo.”

Further, the tattoo serves as an anchor on bad days, she said, helping remind her that her pain is not for nothing but from trying to help another human.

Hero Fund President Eric Zahren presented Callaghan with the Carnegie Medal in December in Chilliwack. At the end of the presentation, Callaghan expressed a tearful thanks.

“I’ve got your backs if you’re ever in trouble. I would do it again,” she said.

Helping others, regardless of the situation, is the only right action to take, she told Impulse. And though the healing of her hand will remain “a lifetime project,” as she told CTV News in October, a permanent reminder to the injuries she endured, the ink serves as a chosen reminder of the day she held to her convictions and took the only right action she could.

— Katherine Lewis, intern