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VIDEO: B.C. school trustee shares heart-wrenching story of losing son to fentanyl

Jacob Wilson survived traumatic brain injury with intervention, but left to die from addiction
Jacob Wilson was 24 when he died in Abbotsford, likely due to fentanyl. His mother, a long-time school trustee in the city, is now speaking candidly about their family’s story. (Submitted photo)

Jacob Hunter Wilson has an incredible life story, albeit a shorter one than it should have been.

His mom, Shirley Wilson, knows it’s a story that could change attitudes and change lives.

It began in 1997, and includes a sister who loves him, friends who cherish him, and sure, a few troubles at school over the years. But Jacob eventually found success in a trades program and was finding his groove in life.

Sadly, that life he was building was interrupted when he was run over by a car at the age of 21. He was resuscitated three times by medical teams that night — a fact that becomes more important the more you know about how Jacob did die.

Over the last years of his life, the devastating injuries he sustained led to isolation, psychosis, drug addiction, and finally, his death just 17 months ago.

Before he died, he spoke with his mom, about the power his story could have for others. He even used ICBC settlement money, a lot of it, to pay his way into a program at one time. He wanted to come out as a success story. He did have hope.

In fact, when he died, Jacob wasn’t unhoused. He wasn’t broke. He had never been arrested. He wasn’t a criminal. He was “just” addicted, and while the coroner’s report is still outstanding, it’s likely he died from fentanyl overdose.

Now that Jacob will never be able to tell his story, his mom is telling one. She has been working with the Abbotsford Police Department, who have helped her create a moving, raw, video explaining what she witnessed through Jacob’s life, and how it’s impacted her family since.

They’ve released the video on their YouTube channel, in the hopes that it will compel change, in big and small ways.

“I can’t tell Jacob’s story,” she said in a recent interview with the News. “But I can tell our story.”

There are so many lovely things about Jacob that make Wilson smile. While the community may know her from her many roles, notably as an Abbotsford school board trustee for nearly 18 years, but also within the non-profit sector. She is now using her reach to share her heart-wrenching story.

The 13-minute video starts out with images from the scene of the crash that altered his body so tremendously. Those images are accompanied by the voice of a 9-1-1 operator, explaining the situation to first responders.

There are photos of Jacob prior to that night, his bright smile beaming into the camera. There are photos of him hooked up to so many cords, monitors, tubes that Wilson said she wasn’t even sure it was him when she looked through the window at Royal Columbian Hospital.

“He was fully run over,” she said.

His skull was altered to the point of reshaping his eye sockets. He didn’t suffer from pain after the accident as much as he suffered from psychosis, she explained. And when you mix in drug use with psychosis, the results are … difficult.

Wilson told him he had to leave the family home. She was firm, loving, but couldn’t enable his lifestyle. And there really isn’t a place for people with concurrent issues like Jacob was living with.

There is a shortage of “front-facing services,” she said, that by the time someone gets a bed, society has already left them behind.

Ultimately, when her son was dying due to drugs, instead of being saved, he was turned away. And she discusses that in the video, through her tears.

They saved his life three times the night he was run over by a car, she repeated. But in the days he needed his life saved from his own mind, they turned him away from the Abbotsford Regional Hospital twice in 48 hours. They didn’t deem him a risk to himself, Wilson said.

He died within hours of the second release.

“He was the same person,” she said.

Talking about her son’s death is not a way to bring herself closure, she said. The video took more than three hours to shoot, and a Victims Services counsellor was in the room the entire time.

“No, no,” Wilson said. “I want to bring awareness. I want to reduce stigma. I want people to know that if it can happen to a school trustee that has been doing this for a long time, it can happen to absolutely anybody.”

READ MORE: Six people in Abbotsford died of toxic drug overdose this January

READ MORE: Mapping where overdoses are more likely to kill in B.C.

RESOURCES: 2021 Overdose Prevention Resource Guide


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Jacob Wilson was 24 when he died in Abbotsford, likely due to fentanyl. His mother, a long-time school trustee in the city, is now speaking candidly about their family’s story. (Submitted photo)
Abbotsford school trustee Shirley Wilson holds a phone with a photo of imaging of her son Jacob’s skull following a traumatic incident in which he was run over. (Jessica Peters/Abbotsford News)

Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
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