Kai, aged 4, when he finished preschool. He was so proud.

My name is Guelda Redman, and I am the mother of three wonderful children. I want to share the journey our family is taking with my lovely and amazing son, Kai Heimburger.

Kai has always had a sweet heart and soul. He was a shy, quiet, and gentle little boy. When he was playing with other kids, he did not have the self-confidence to join in a game until he was invited. Although everyone liked him, he was never very sure of himself.

Kai loved to create and illustrate stories. His kind, calm nature was reflected in his drawings. When he was in a fine arts school, he blossomed and found a group of close friends.

My son always did his own thing. He was never one to follow along with what everyone else seemed to be doing. This was very comforting to us, and we never thought that we would have to worry about him.

We could not have anticipated what was to come. 

In Grade 11, Kai’s personality changed. Almost overnight, he became defiant and, at the same time, even more solitary. Kai’s grades dropped, and his happy outlook on the world disappeared. His artwork became very dark and disturbing.  

Kai had begun using drugs. But he was not doing this to fit in with others or hang out with friends. He was doing this all alone… to escape. We realize now that Kai was self-medicating.

Very soon, some of the things he said were not logical and didn’t always make sense. Although I even asked him a few times if he was hearing voices, he always said no.

Family trip. Kai (far left) just graduated. It was after a very hard few months—we had learned about his drug use and his not wanting to finish high school.

We knew Kai needed help and found counselling for him. Kai was willing to talk to the counsellors about what he was going through, but he did not tell them everything he believed and felt. And they kept telling us that he was just being a “normal” teenage boy.

Kai is a huge animal lover. Once, he rescued a black cat because they are the least likely to be adopted.

But in my heart, I knew different.

I knew that this was not my son, and something was terribly wrong. I was losing my gentle son. 

Kai moved out after high school and worked at various jobs—mostly for short periods of time. And as time went on, Kai stopped cleaning his room, his apartment, and even himself. His hair became long and unruly. He didn’t care about what he looked like or how others saw him. 

One morning, as my husband and I started work around the house, I went downstairs and was shocked to find Kai in our guest room. He was on the bed, fully dressed, and looking worse than I had ever seen him before.

Kai told me that he needed help. He said that no one at work wanted him around, and that he couldn’t go back to where he was living because no one wanted him there either. He had even thrown away his belongings because he believed that he had no choice but to be homeless. 

And he believed that everyone could hear his thoughts.

As soon as Kai said that, things began to make sense. So many of the arguments I had with him in the past and many of the comments he had made fell into place. It was like finally finding the missing piece of a puzzle. 

Kai finally admitted that he was hearing voices. They were telling him that everyone hated him, that he was a terrible person, that he was going to hell, and that nobody wanted him around. Kai told us that the voices were loud and tormenting him constantly, to the point where he no longer wanted to live. But Kai was too afraid to end his life because he believed that he would go to hell.

As I looked into his eyes, I saw that they were very dark and haunted. He was in so much pain and was so scared, and I had no idea where to go and how to help him.

The next few years were filled with hard, harsh lessons for us all. 

We learned that when your child hurts himself and won’t go to the hospital, the only thing you can do is to call the police. One cold January night, the police drove up as Kai was walking out of the Fraser River—where he had only gone in up to his knees. When we met them at the hospital, they told us that he was very polite and didn’t argue with them about what needed to happen. 

In the emergency room, waiting for a bed.

That was the first time he was certified. That was the first time we spent the night in a hospital, waiting until a bed in the psych ward became available.

We eventually learned that if we wanted him to get real help, we could not bring him home with us, although we desperately wanted to. There are no words to express the pain you feel when you have to say to your child, “No. We won’t take you home.” 

Over time and after lots of testing and therapies, Kai slowly got better. And as he was transferred from one facility to another, there was nowhere too far for us to go. We accumulated thousands of kilometres on our car as we often drove for hours to see him daily if he was close, or once or twice a week if he was further away. We needed to prove to him that we still loved him.

But walking out of those facilities without our son… day after day, week after week… was one of the hardest things we have ever done.

We learned that there is no “one size fits all” treatment; it takes a long time to find the right combination of medications for each person.

But with treatment and support, we learned that you can have schizophrenia and still have a good life. You can work, enjoy your family, and have friends.

There are far too many families that find themselves where we were, knowing something is very wrong and desperately looking for answers. We learned that BC Schizophrenia Society (BCSS) offers courses, runs support groups, and has many resources designed to help families like ours… free of charge. Whenever we have problems, questions, or want to know about the latest treatments, BCSS is there.

We soon learned how to tell how Kai was feeling. Whenever Kai felt uncomfortable, he would put up his hood.

Despite the research that is happening, we need to do a lot more to understand, treat, and finally cure this disease.

In 2013, when BCSS joined the BMO Vancouver Marathon, I saw a way to make a difference for other families by fundraising so BCSS could do what it does so well. And so “Team Heimburger” was formed.

Team Heimburger is a fundraising team for BCSS, as well as a Facebook group where I share posts from the BCSS page about mental illness, research, and hope. My followers are family, friends, and people who have either supported our family or are looking for information and help. Team Heimburger has been running, walking, and fundraising for BCSS for the last 7 years. It is our honour and blessing to be able to give back.

Team Heimburger and a few of our supporters. We have had many friends and family join us over the years. (Kai is on the right, holding his niece.) 

In addition to Team Heimburger’s participation in this year’s virtual event, one of Kai’s uncles, Steve, decided to do even more. Steve decided to trek 650 kilometres from Castlegar to Hope, British Columbia. Steve’s “Walk To/For Hope” raised awareness and funds for BCSS. It was not easy. Although there were many times his body told him to quit, Steve kept going, knowing that people like Kai, and that families like ours, were counting on him.

During the day, Steve hiked along the Columbia & Western and Kettle Valley Rail Trails. And in the evenings, Steve talked with fellow travellers about what he was doing. He asked people what they knew about schizophrenia and told them about how it has affected our lives. Through it all, he raised more than $5,000 for BCSS.  This journey was not just physically trying for Steve, but it was also deeply emotional. Steve’s emotions washed over him when he finally arrived in Hope and saw Kai—standing behind all the other supporters, patiently waiting his turn to greet his uncle—as a touching reminder of why his walk was so important.

You too can make a difference for so many who are searching for help, feeling desperate and lost.

You can help those who are clinging to the hope that one day they will be able to see the person they love come out from behind those haunted eyes; to see a smile or hear a laugh.

You can help those whose minds have turned against them, telling them lies, devastating their lives, and destroying their dreams.

Kai holding his nephew for the first time when he came home from the NICU.

With your help, there is hope.

Today, Kai is working full-time and lives in a group home facility where he shares an apartment and receives 24/7 support. He is still quiet and looks like a mountain man with his long hair and bushy beard. But now Kai smiles and laughs. He loves his niece and nephew, and they love him.

Thank you so much for reading our story and for your support.

I’m gonna head off now to go hug my son.

—Guelda Redman

Listen to Guelda tell her story in her own words:

This video was made possible by generous support from: