'This also gives me purpose': Stroke survivor raises money for Ottawa rehab facility

Five years after suffering a brain hemorrhage and stroke while at sea, Tim Kerr, a retired naval commander wants to give back to the rehab facility in Ottawa where he spent his recovery.

'It's incredible, his strength and fortitude, he's like an ironman, he just keeps going'

Tim Kerr did the Army Run in Ottawa last fall as a trial run for the fundraising walk at Ottawa Race Weekend. (Submitted by Tim Kerr)

Five years after suffering a brain hemorrhage and stroke while at sea, retired naval commander Tim Kerr wants to give back to the rehab facility in Ottawa where he spent his recovery.

Kerr, who now works at Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown, will walk the half marathon route at the Ottawa Race Weekend to raise money and awareness for Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital. 

"I had no idea that place existed before I had my stroke," said Kerr, 48, who will also carry a weighted backpack, with one pound for every $100 he has raised, now more than $6,500.

"I realized how important it is to make sure that every community has a resource like Bruyère, like the Queen Elizabeth Hospital here in Charlottetown," said Kerr.

"A facility that's able to do not only the critical care for strokes to make sure you live through the event, but also the rehabilitation which is so critical to getting as much of your life back as you can."

"This also gives me purpose," he said. 

Tim Kerr was on board a Canadian naval ship heading on his final deployment when he suffered a brain hemorrhage and stroke. (Submitted by Tim Kerr)

'Very dramatic'

Kerr's story starts with a dramatic at sea medical rescue. He was commanding HMCS Algonquin on its way to a military exercise in Hawaii. The ship had just left San Diego, on what was supposed to be Kerr's last deployment before moving to Ottawa to work at naval headquarters.

"I got on the treadmill and the last thing I remember was strapping on my headphones and starting to run and then I remembered waking up in San Diego Naval Hospital having had the brain hemorrhage and stroke," he recalled. 

"I was fortunate in the fact that it happened as close as it did to shore because had it happened a couple of days later when we were halfway between San Diego and Hawaii, it would have taken much longer to get me to a hospital and my chances of surviving would have been much less."

Tim's parents, dad Sandy and mom Terry, travelled from P.E.I. to Ottawa and Victoria to support Tim and his family after the stroke. (Submitted by Tim Kerr)

"It was very dramatic and I just wasn't sure if he was going to be all right," said his sister, Maureen, who lives in Stratford, P.E.I. Kerr's parents, Terry and Sandy, have lived in Murray Harbour, P.E.I., since 1996. 

The Kerr family all rushed to Ottawa to support Tim and his wife and children, who were getting ready to move from Victoria to their new home at the time of the stroke.

"It was quite emotional," said Maureen, on seeing her brother for the first time in the hospital in Ottawa.

"But I was glad that he was stabilized and he'd worked through some injuries before and so we all had hopes and knew that he'd try his best."

Tim Kerr spends time with his children Sophie and James at Bruyère in 2012, while he was recovering from the stroke. (Submitted by Tim Kerr)

'It was very uncertain'

It was when he moved from the hospital to the rehab facility in July 2012 that the extent of the stroke hit home for Kerr.

"It really didn't sink home to me how disabled I was until I got to Bruyère," he said. 

"I was in a wheelchair, I couldn't sit up straight and my left side was not able to function properly."

He was 43 at the time of the stroke, fit, and didn't drink or smoke.

"They put a bib around me and I looked around at the other stroke patients and at that point it was very uncertain as to how much I would recover," he said.

"I was quite determined to recover as best I could and get back to my family and get back as much of my life as possible."

"You'd never hear him complain, that's part of the military in him," said Maureen. 

"He's just so stoic, even when he was going through all the treatment and working so hard."

Tim and his wife Anne feel a strong attachment to Bruyère where he recovered from the stroke in 2012. (Submitted by Tim Kerr)

Crushed hip

Kerr left Bruyère using a walker and then a cane. Now five years later, he's preparing for the 21 kilometre walk. 

"I don't think anybody's ever fully recovered a stroke, I've got 95 per cent of my mobility back," he said.

"I have post stroke fatigue that I still have to deal with and I'm still on anti-seizure medications, likely for the rest of my life."

Doctors still aren't sure exactly why he had the brain hemorrhage and stroke, but one possibility is medication he was taking after crushing a hip in a training accident in 2009. 

The hip is also why he will be walking, not running, the half marathon.

"I essentially crushed my hip socket so it's stitched together with a lot of metal pins and plates so I can't run for any length of time," he said.

"I'm very satisfied with my recovery, I'm certainly much better than I initially thought I would do."

Tim Kerr, left, with brother Dan and sister Maureen, says the support of his family made his recovery possible. (Submitted by Tim Kerr)

Support from colleagues

News has spread through the offices of Veterans Affairs Canada in Charlottetown of Kerr's fundraising efforts.

"To look at me you would never know that I had such a significant stroke," he said.

"And so I think until the publicity that came along with this event, I don't think many people knew what had happened to me.

Kerr says the response has been overwhelming.

"People have come up to me and said they're so glad I'm doing well and what can they do to support me." 

Tim, with Anne in 2015, says he is 'very satisfied' with his recovery even though he still feels some after effects from the stroke. (Submitted by Tim Kerr)

Dedication to give back

Kerr has been training with 50 pounds in his backpack, though he will now be carrying more weight as his fundraising total grows. 

"I can assure you it's heavy but to me, it's very worthwhile," he said. 

"I'll be thinking about a couple of people I know that are still in the service that have suffered strokes and they're still in the recovery phase and I'll be thinking about the people at Bruyère​ who I volunteered with, who I still remain in contact with, just because I owe them so much."

"It's incredible, his strength and fortitude, he's like an ironman, he just keeps going," said Maureen.

"I really admire his dedication to give back to the facility that helped him out so much."


Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.