These days, pacemakers and defibrillators are commonplace instruments in cardiac medicine, but 35 years ago, when electrophysiologist Dr. Charles Kerr began his career, the field of heart rhythms was in its infancy. While others were preoccupied with coronary heart disease, the young Dr. Kerr recognized that there was much to be learned from understanding the electrical impulses that keep hearts beating. A newly minted cardiologist, he travelled to North Carolina’s Duke University for training, returning to BC two years later as the first electrophysiologist in the province.
“Nobody was doing electrophysiology at the time. It was a black box,” Dr. Kerr reflects. “Most people didn’t realize that arrhythmias [fast or irregular heart rhythms] are a huge problem from a personal and societal perspective. Nobody treated atrial fibrillation [a common form of arrhythmia] the way it should be treated.”
Today, the recently retired Dr. Kerr looks back on a milestone-filled career in which he was a pioneer and leader.
“He’s truly a giant of cardiovascular medicine in Canada,” says Dr. Andrew Ignaszewski, head of the Division of Cardiology at St. Paul’s, whom Dr. Kerr recruited to St. Paul’s 23 years ago.
Dr. Kerr, a father and grandfather, is also a lifelong skier and enjoys his second home at Shawnigan Lake. His greatest accomplishment, he says, isn’t one of the many professional accolades he’s received, but the patients he has helped — not only in Vancouver but also in Whitehorse, Prince Rupert and First Nations communities in Terrace and Hazelton. “The overall highlight of my career has been the privilege of practicing medicine,” he says. “My biggest gift has been being able to see patients for 30 years, and to feel a sense of helping them and receiving thanks. Above everything else, the most important thing for me has been good patient care.”
Legacy Through Scholarship
To honour Dr. Kerr, two new scholarships were created in his name. Announced in February 2016, the two positions are supported by a $1.25-million gift from medical technology company Medtronic. Dr. Nathaniel Hawkins, UBC Dr. Charles Kerr Distinguished Scholar in Heart Rhythm Management is researching stages of care for heart device patients; Dr. Zachary Laksman, UBC Dr. Charles Kerr Distinguished Scholar in Cardiovascular Genetics conducts genetic research on heart disease.
Their research in electrophysiology will continue Dr. Kerr’s legacy, leading heart health into the future.
Thank you, Dr. Charles Kerr, for your dedication and love for St. Paul’s. Congratulations on your retirement.