High Seas Hero
When Tim Kerr suffered a stroke while commanding the HMCS Algonquin, he’d never envisaged running again, let alone with a 24 kilogram rucksack on his back
Tim Kerr’s well acquainted with the term “high readiness.” As an officer in the Royal Canadian Navy for 28 years, Kerr participated in the hunt for Bin Laden after 9-11, pursued drug traffickers in South America and chased pirates off the coast of Somalia. Yet nothing could prepare him for his near-death experience while on duty as Captain of the hmcs Algonquin six years ago. Kerr went above and beyond when completing the Voyageur Challenge at the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend in May. Not only did Kerr walk the 5k, 10k and half-marathon races to complete the challenge, he did so with a rucksack on his back, that contained two steel plates weighing close to 2 4 kilograms. As a result, Kerr raised close to $7,000 in donations for the Bruyère Foundation – a cause Kerr’s intimately familiar with. Kerr’s last naval deployment saw him at the helm of the hmcs Algonquin in the Pacific near Hawaii. During a rendezvous with other international ships, Kerr found a window of downtime and went to workout on one of the ship’s treadmills.
“I remember running for a few minutes. The next thing I remember is waking up the following day in a hospital with a very bad headache, unable to use my left side,” says Kerr. Forty-three at the time and in good shape, Kerr had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, whereby a blood vessel bursts and blood compresses brain tissue, causing the tissue to start to die.
An unconscious Kerr also began to have seizures, but his crew stabilized and transferred him to a nearby Australian frigate, which sailed at full speed toward sout her n Califor nia . As t he shipped approached the coast , t he American Navy shutt led Kerr from the Algonquin via helicopter to a naval hospit al near San Diego.
Kerr found out he’d had about a 50 per cent chance of making it. Fortunately the coin f lip went his way. “I was in icu there for about 10 days before I was stable enough to get transferred to the Ottawa Civic Hospital,” Kerr says.
As Kerr continued to recover, a bed became available at the Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital stroke rehab unit in Ottawa. Kerr says the hospital staff didn’t mince words when describing his treatment, which included ongoing and intensive strengthening and balance work. The staff also made it clear that his rehabilitation would take time, with no guarantees. “I felt a lot of despair when I first arrived and my progress was slow,” Kerr says. “It was so frustrating, not knowing whether
“I remember running for a few minutes. The next thing I remember is waking up the following day in a hospital with a very bad headache, unable to use my left side.”
anything was going to work again.”
The turning point came at his young daughter Sophie’s birthday, which Tim and his family celebrated at Bruyère. “To see my daughter dancing around my son and wife it hit home how important it was to recover and be there for them – to get back to my family,” he says. Kerr also credits his family’s unwavering support in getting him on the road to recovery, including his father: “My dad came every day for a month, 7:30 in the morning to 7:30 at night, just motivating me and advocating for me, making sure that I got on with things.”
Slowly, Kerr started to see progress in his rehab, which motivated him further, and within months he left Bruyère in a walker as an outpatient. A year later, Kerr was back at work, “rewired.”
For this article, Kerr wanted it known that he had to lighten his load during the half-marathon portion of the Voyageur Challenge in Ottawa this past May due to increasingly intense pain in his hip, that stemmed from an injury during a military exercise in an armoured vehicle years ago. The injury caused his femur bone to drive through his hip socket, now held together with pins and a plate.
“I don’t want to be made out as some hero,” says Kerr, of not completing the challenge the way he wanted to. That’s OK, Tim, we’ll cut you some slack. To donate to the Bruyère Foundation, go to: bruyere.org/en/Every_ Day_is_a_Gift
ABOVE Tim Kerr on the Bridge of HMCS Algonquin
LEFT Kerr on course at the 2018 Ottawa Marathon