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Coquitlam father's courageous comeback from addiction and tragedy recognized with award

Kevin Parker is one of five people recently recognized with a Courage to Come Back award at a fundraising gala in Vancouver
Coquitlam's Kevin Parker almost died in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Now recovered from his personal demons, he works there to provide peer supporrt to others going through addiction.

Coquitlam’s Kevin Parker has come back not once, but twice.

The first time almost killed him. The second could have broken him.

Parker’s perseverance and resilience were recently honoured with a Courage to Come Back award from Coast Mental Health.

A childhood of poverty and violence led Parker to a life of petty crimes and substance abuse. He started smoking cigarettes when he was 10 years old then escalated to marijuana a few years later.

At 15, Parker tried crack cocaine.

“I immediately wanted more,” he said, adding his ventures into Vancouver’s rough-and-tumble Downtown Eastside neighbourhood to seek out the drugs he craved became more and more frequent until he stayed.

That led him to heroin.

“I was so addicted to heroin, I couldn’t leave,” Parker said. “I thought it was fun.”

Parker lived in a Downtown Eastside alley for more than a decade. He said he was beaten, stabbed more than 12 times, suffered a hatchet blow to the head.

“It gets bad, very bad,” Parker said of that time that was also punctuated with his marriage to his first wife, Chylo, and the birth of two sons.

“She just told them I was sick,” he said of her explanations for his absences.

The petty crimes of theft and drug dealing landed him a stretch in prison.

When Parker was released, he was accepted into the Salvation Army’s Harbour Light intake program.

His road to recovery was underway.

Parker got a job. He reconnected with this young family, learned how to be a father to his sons.

Then, in 2017, his wife got sick, diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

Parker said it would have been easy to slide back into his old self-destructive patterns of addiction to escape the pain of her struggles.

But, “the whole time she was sick, I never thought about using once,” he said.

Remarried and with two more young sons, Parker now works to make it easier for others like him to regain their footing. He managed a complex care housing facility in Surrey and he’s currently working with a foundation that provides peer support in the Downtown Eastside.

“I have an opportunity to do things differently,” Parker said. “All that suffering and hard stuff I went through has made me strong.”

Parker was presented his Courage to Come Back award, in the addiction category, at a fundraising gala in Vancouver on May 23.

Also honoured were:

  • Paraplegic boxer Leo Sammarelli in the physical rehabilitation category
  • Monica Gartner in the medical category
  • Baylie McKnight in the mental health category
  • Samantha Sewell in the youth category