Professor Kevin Kerr, originally from Forfar, was a Consultant Microbiologist at Harrogate District Hospital. Kevin and Kate met at St Andrew’s university where he studied medicine. Kevin completed his studies at Manchester University, and in 1987 Kate moved to England to be with him. Kevin, Kate and their daughter Olivia continued living in the north of England and in October 2014 they received the devastating news that Kevin was diagnosed with MND. Kevin passed away just over a year later, in November 2015, at the age of 58.
MND is a rapidly progressing terminal illness, which stops signals from the brain reaching the muscles. This may cause someone to lose the ability to walk, talk, eat, drink or breathe unaided.
Because of his progressive symptoms, Kevin decided to retire in July 2015 and the family moved to Dalbeattie, where Kate grew up.
Kate said: “I think our move to Scotland was frowned upon by some as reckless and not in Kevin’s best interests, however, it was an incredible and ‘normal’ distractor from the illness. The move was also Kevin’s way of showing his love for me – he knew my home and heart were always in South West Scotland, where I grew up, and he wanted to know I was settled in the community and area I loved. We had an amazing four special months together after our move, facing and surmounting challenges but also laughing and sharing precious moments with each other, with Olivia, and with friends who came from near and far to support us.
“Kevin’s mobility reduced but he still managed to attend local pub quizzes in his powered wheelchair, supported by friends. Kevin’s ability to talk and swallow was never significantly affected – it was a matter of honour that he could still down a pint using a straw, much to the horror of his Speech and Language Therapist!
“His ability to type and use his phone reduced but using his Eye Gaze equipment his world started to open out again. Using only the movement of his eyes he could email friends, text, dial phone numbers and even change the channels on the TV.
“Kevin coped with his illness with his characteristic dry sense of humour. On one occasion I was struggling to lift him into the car from his wheelchair and so lay him down on the drive while I went to get a neighbour to help me. Our neighbour walked up to us and asked if Kevin was ok. Kevin said ‘Yes, fine – just thought I would try a spot of star-gazing before we set off’.”
“Everyone with MND has a different journey and a different story to tell. When MND is mentioned most people think of Stephen Hawking, but his experience was very different from ours. I have cherished memories of the good times Kevin and I shared during our 35 years together. It was a privilege to care for him and a mark of his trust in me to allow me to do so."
Kate and Kevin’s daughter, Olivia (22), who has just finished her 3rd year at the University of Glasgow, studying Genetics, said “My dad was diagnosed with MND in October 2014, just as I started my second year of studying for my A-levels.
“It was a huge shock when Mum and Dad sat me down and told me. I remember wondering how on earth we were going to cope. But we did cope, and not only that but we had some of our happiest times as a family following Dad’s diagnosis, making the most of every day despite not knowing how long we had left together.
“I am loving studying for my degree and was lucky enough to do some work experience at Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience, where I was able to see some of the amazing research that is being carried out in the fight against MND. My dad definitely influenced my love of science from a very young age and encouraged me to question everything. As I grew up we'd talk about his work, and discuss what I was learning at school. I initially applied to university to study sports science and physiology but following Dad's diagnosis I definitely became more interested in the field of genetics. I don't have a clear idea of what I will do following graduation - I just know that I want to help people, and I haven't quite decided how best I can do that yet, whether it's through genetic counselling, research, or something completely different.
“Chatting to Dad about all the fascinating things I'm learning about is one of the things I miss the most. We used to have the best discussions and hearing his perspective always helped me a lot. Dad continues to inspire me every single day, and I know that he always will. He taught me that giving up is simply not an option and that you can do anything if you put your mind to it – lessons which I’m sure will be especially useful during the walk.”
This August, Olivia and Kate will take on the North Coast 500 by foot, in memory of Kevin, and to raise funds for charities MND Scotland and Marie Curie, and the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience.
Olivia said: “It was so hard to watch my dad lose his strength and his independence, but he was just amazing and kept us all going when times were tough. My dad died three days before my 19th birthday. To date I have raised nearly £5,000 for people affected by MND – myself and my friend India completed the Great Scottish Swim in 2015 and Mum and I abseiled off the Forth Rail Bridge in 2017. Dad was still alive when we did the swim and although he was too ill to travel to Loch Lomond it was lovely to share the experience with him, and it was so exciting to tell him when someone else had sponsored us and update him with our new total. I am very grateful to all our friends, Dad’s colleagues and family who have supported our challenges over the years, and especially those who are joining us for our craziest adventure yet.
“In August, Mum and I are going to be walking (yes walking!) 500 miles around the north coast of Scotland. Our neighbour Wendy mentioned the NC500 route to us as something she was keen to do - driving rather than walking of course. Dad was passionate about music, and one band he admired was The Proclaimers (Cap in Hand was one of his favourites), and obviously their song 'I'm Gonna Be' is very popular. Mum was driving to work one day and thinking about all of this when she 'phoned me and said 'I've had a crazy idea...'. I told her that she was crazy but I thought we should do it. I actually went to see The Proclaimers live in November 2018 in Glasgow and managed to get to the front of the crowd with a letter I'd written to them, telling them Dad's story and about the walk. A few weeks later I received an email from their manager sending their thanks and a message of support. He asked us to get in touch again closer to the start of the walk which is so exciting and very special.
“We’re aiming to do the walk within a month, from 11th August to 7th September. So if anyone lives along the route or is on holiday that way, come and say hello if you see us. We’ll also be supported by Jessie and Mollie, our two dogs!
“I miss my dad so much, and I hate MND for taking away one of the most important people in my life. Dad never lost his sense of humour or his determination to never let his illness get in his way. We hope that the money we raise will make a huge difference to those who have already been diagnosed, and those who will be diagnosed in the future. My dream is that one day, when someone is given a diagnosis of MND, it will not be the devastating news it is today.”
The duo is raising funds for MND Scotland, Marie Curie, and the Sheffield Institute for Translational Science. To donate to Kate and Olivia’s 500-mile challenge, and to follow their progress, visit: 500MilesBy4Feet.com
15 January 2020
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