The lives behind Northland road crosses: Nurse Jodee Redmond’s bucket list mission

As part of the Northern Advocate’s road safety series, reporter Karina Cooper has spoken to families who have lost loved ones on the region’s roads.

Their lives are immortalised with white crosses – stark reminders of the human cost of the Northland road toll, which stands at four for 2021 so far.

As community nurse Jodee Redmond cruised along SH1 north of Ruakākā on July 14, 2019, she was fulfilling a vow to help her paraplegic husband knock off his bucket list.

Three years prior, 55-year-old Redmond had held the hand of Paul Wager – her husband of nine years – as surgeons delivered Wager’s prognosis of worsening scoliosis and kyphosis after his long battle with spinal cancer.

“Long story short, when I was 13 I tried to get out of bed one day and fell over. I couldn’t stand up,” he said.

Surgery and rehabilitation allowed the teen to walk with a slight limp until he hit 30, and then the slow deterioration of his spine pushed him into a wheelchair permanently.

Surgeons later told a 55-year-old Wager that surgery to counter the deterioration of his spinal cord was too dangerous to proceed with due to the high risk of life-threatening complications.

“When that happened, Jodee said to me, ‘things aren’t looking good. You’d better get a bucket list together.”

A short while later the mother-of-two declared at the family dinner table that she had revamped her life’s purpose.

“She was going to dedicate her life to get whatever I wanted to get done,” Wager said. “Jodee was an incredibly giving person.”

Wager had long harboured a dream to sail single-handed around the country – before being confined to a wheelchair he had built boats.

A year before Redmond’s death Wager’s illness had become life-threatening and the couple were told there was nothing to lose by going ahead with surgery.

“With the news of pending surgery we decided to make the goal a little smaller, and this is the connection with Northland,” Wager said.

Their sights were instead set on Wager competing in the Auckland to Russell Coastal Classic Yacht Race single-handed division in three months’ time.

“We were working towards that and unfortunately the accident happened.”

A ute being driven by 57-year-old Wayne Purdon struck Redmond’s car head on after swerving across the centreline, near the Mangapai Rd and SH1 intersection in Oakleigh.

Redmond died at the scene.

“Jodee was amazing,” Wager said. “It’s really difficult to capture in words.”

Three months after Redmond’s tragic death Wager made the decision to honour his late wife’s memory by keeping their goal on course: “the race was on.”

“Unfortunately, I didn’t get to the finish line due to gear failure,” Wager said. “It was a very rough and windy day. Blowing over 40 knots at times.”

A second attempt in the month leading up to Wager’s surgery proved successful. He completed the journey single-handed from Auckland to Russell in December 2019.

The feat was an important part of Wager honouring his wife, who filled her lifetime with acts of kindness and contributions as a community nurse since her first job in a care home at the age of 14.

“She had so much empathy, it’s one of the great things about her,” Wager said. “I always looked up to her. She was an awesome, giving person.”

Her tagline for the moments when Wager struggled to show more compassion for others was: “you’re not living their life, think about that.”

The pair’s paths crossed when Wager injured his foot and Redmond became his ACC wound care nurse.

“She was very professional until the day she signed me off. And then we were together,” he said. “It’s rare, almost impossible, to find someone who can look past a disability like she did.”

A conversation between the couple about Redmond’s wishes in the event of her death had strict instructions for no funeral and no burial.

It was an emotionally difficult request for Wager to accept regarding the person he – and many others – cherished.

However, Wager and close family were able to fulfill Redmond’s only wish – to have her ashes scattered in a spot she treasured.

Together the family took to the skies in a chartered Barrier Air plane and gave Redmond her final resting place in the turquoise sea at Spirits Bay near Cape Reinga.

Their love for their wife, sister, daughter, and mother led them to one final commemorative action.

“We approached Massey University to create an award in Jodee’s honour for someone who displays the same or similar qualities,” Wager said.

As a result, Massey University now has an annual award, to a first-year student at the College of Health’s School of Nursing who shows “generosity of spirit, empathy to patients, honesty and a positive influence over other students”.

Wager shared their story to convey the “sadness, grief, devastation and ruined lives” caused by poor decision-making on the roads.

“Please, if you are feeling tired, just pull over and rest,” he said.

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