Stoughton woman sacrificed her life to save her son

A photograph, seen on Monday, July 22, 2013, of Joanne White, 35, of Stoughton, who was pregnant and was struck and killed by a car on Lincoln Street in Stoughton on Sunday night, and Joanne’s son Jahmara, 11, who was with her but was not injured because his mother told him to run.

The Buick that had just reversed across Lincoln Street in Stoughton on July 21 came to an abrupt stop at a tree. Seconds before, Joanne White told her 11-year-old son to run.

He dropped her hand and fled her side, witnesses said. It was after that the car hit, shoving her backward. Between her son and the car was the tree. He was not hurt. White was pronounced dead at Mass General Hospital that night.

“She was very protective and very close with him, but this time she told him to run,” said Joan White, 56, Joanne’s mother.

Witnesses said that White, who was killed when the car struck her, saved her son’s life in her final moments.

That reaction is instinctual, said Louise Graham, a psychologist and professor at Bridgewater State University.

“In an emergency or dangerous situation, what happens is the fight or flight system automatically kicks on,” said Graham. “Parents are going to give up their life to protect their young. They don’t even think about it.”

Graham noted this instinct comes from the basic purpose of procreation which is to raise a new generation – and protect it – like a mother bear protecting her cubs.

Edward Cordwell, 39, was a hero in the last moments of his life.

He had gone for a walk to the store on a sunny Sunday afternoon last October with his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter, who called him “Daddy.”

As they crossed Temple Street, Route 27, in Whitman, they were struck by a pickup truck. Both were hit and a little pink training-wheeled bike was crushed but the child suffered only minor injuries.

Witnesses said that Cordwell pushed the young girl out of harm’s way, taking the brunt of the impact. He was pronounced dead a few hours after the crash.

Christopher Backman and Linda Millett’s only concern was her son, Evan, after their car collided head-on with a pick-up truck on July 4, 2012.

The pair, who were suffering from life-threatening injuries screamed for anyone to help get 5-year-old Evan, who was hanging upside down in his car seat, out of the car.

“Get my baby out of the car,” the two screamed, according to Millett’s mother.

Backman, 47, who was the 30-year-old Linda’s boyfriend, repeatedly asked the EMTs in the ambulance to “save the baby,” Millett said witnesses told her later.

“I don’t doubt that for one minute,” said Millet’s mother, Sandra. “Just before Chris died, he was worried about getting Evan out of the car. They were buddies. And Linda, there was nowhere she went that she didn’t take (Evan). They were like one”

Backman died on the way to the hospital. Millett was in a coma for more than a month and is still recovering from her injuries.

The fight or flight instinct is part of the involuntary nervous system, said Graham.

It triggers a physical response that includes a rush of adrenaline, dilated pupils, heart rate and breathing increase, and digestion shuts down, said Graham.

“It’s readying that body for action, said Graham. “If you think about it, we see that in animals and people.”

It is that physical reaction that empowers the selfless acts by parents in dangerous situations are natural, said Graham.

“It’s just instinct,” said Graham. “It happens before you’re even aware of it and then after you realize (what happened).”

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