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Rio Grande Tragedy, 10 years later | Despite suspension, hero nurse would help again

Published:Sunday | December 23, 2018 | 12:00 AMSyranno Baines/Gleaner Writer
Gleaner reporter Gareth Davis with Rackell Wilson at the scene of the Ri Grande Valley market truck crash in 2008.

The gravity of the situation was such that Rackell Wilson, the then 23-year-old nurse who braved the pitch-black ravine at Dam Bridge Portland to give medical care, didn't remember that she was pregnant, let alone exhausted from a just-completed 15-hour work shift.

With less than two years' nursing experience at the time of the tragic December 19, 2008, accident, which left 14 persons dead, Wilson's selfless actions have made her, in the eyes of many, the hero of one of the worst road disasters in modern Jamaican history.

Speaking with The Gleaner yesterday, Wilson recounted how instead of going home to rest, she grabbed her first aid kit and secured a ride to the scene to witness first-hand what had transpired.

"When I came on the scene, it was all eyes on me. Everybody was saying, 'You need to do something now', so that (pregnancy) was never in my mind at all. I just wanted to see what was happening and how best I could help," Wilson recounted.

But like any leading character, there are key decisions, and then there are the consequences of those decisions. Wilson was no exception, having had her licence suspended for six months because of her decision to administer a painkilling Voltaren injection to survivor Lynford Jackson, who was pinned beneath the market truck for more than five hours.

Jackson pleaded with medical personnel from the Port Antonio Hospital, Wilson included, to have his leg chopped off as the pain was unbearable. His plea, however, was not honoured.

The 23-year-old nurse explained that despite the circumstances, the decision was that every attempt would be made to save the trapped man's life.

Speaking in hindsight, Wilson, who is currently furthering her studies at a private hospital in the United States, said that she does not regret her choice that night.

"I thought to myself, 'If such an incident should repeat, would I go thus far and repeat the same kind of assistance, or would I stand and look?' So it made me think twice, but then I said to myself, 'No, do what you need to do within your scope, and try to help as best as possible ... do not be prejudiced with your help because they had punished you for helping. Continue to help, but be careful what you do'," she reasoned.

Wilson unsuccessfully appealed the decision that was handed down by the Nursing Council of Jamaica, but firmly in her corner was Daryl Vaz, the West Portland member of parliament who was the Government's point man following the incident.

So moved was Vaz that he paid Wilson, from his own pocket, her full salary for the length of the suspension so that she would not lose income for her heroics that night.

Jackson has since expressed on multiple occasions that he will be forever grateful to Wilson for the hours of effort and her calming presence.

The mother of three says that while she has seen her fair share of incidents since, nothing quite compares to that eerie night in December.

Wilson recalled how the bottom of the precipice was dark and heavily saturated with water from a river, and bodies were strewn all over.

"There were bodies that had bones protruding from the skin. A man was bleeding through his mouth, nose, and ears while a woman's face was banged in," she said.