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Harv’s Hike kicks off Saturday to help support first responders with PTSD

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The first-ever Harv’s Hike will take place this Saturday just north of London, Ont., to raise money for service dog training programs in memory of a local paramedic.

The hike is being hosted in memory of Neil Harvey, who worked with Lambton County Emergency Services for 10 years before taking a leave after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2020. One year later, Harvey died just four days before Christmas.

Harvey’s family says he was very outgoing and always active whenever possible, whether in school plays or on sports teams. But above all else, he liked helping people, which played a part in his joining the volunteer fire department in Ilderton, Ont., while still in high school.

“He was always interested in service to others,” says Janice Harvey, Neil’s mother.

Janice says after going to post-secondary school and seeing the job market for full-time firefighters as not ideal, her son transitioned to the paramedic service world.

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But like many first responders, Harvey’s work took a toll on him, leading to a PTSD diagnosis. After his diagnosis, Harvey’s father, Steve, says he struggled with lonesomeness and keeping his mind and body occupied.

“The whole condition of PTSD is a very lonely condition,” said Steve, adding that the stigma around PTSD often results in people isolating themselves to avoid others finding out.

Steve says after some time and exploring for resources, Harvey found IveGotYourBack911, a peer support group from St. Thomas that helps first responders dealing with mental health issues.

The group introduced the idea of a support dog for Harvey to help him. With training for service and support dogs costing between $3,000 and $50,000, Harvey received assistance from IveGotYourBack911 and The Phoenix Canine Initiative, which offers the support program, to be able to afford his dog, Nash.

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Steve says Nash served as a “loneliness filter” for Harvey.

“Nash would give Neil an opportunity to care for something, to have a purpose and get up in the morning,” said Steve.

“They were a great pair right from the time Nash came along.”

Janice adds that Nash was an excellent way for their son to get his thoughts in a more positive space to apply the lessons learned from his counsellors.

“It was truly going to be a difference,” said Janice.

Unfortunately, the time between Harvey and Nash – and the rest of his family and friends – would be cut short. After suffering a setback in his journey living with PTSD, Harvey contacted a drug supplier in December 2021.

The supply sold to Harvey was laced with fentanyl, and he subsequently died of an accidental overdose on Dec. 21, 2021, at the age of 39.

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But through the heartbreak of losing their eldest child, Janice and Steve say they want to help other first responders get the same opportunities their son got with Nash.

“The cost makes it such a daunting commitment, but it makes such a difference,” says Janice.

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So, the idea of Harv’s Hike was born to honour Harvey and help support his peers.

“We want to be able to provide those with PTSD and their families a friendly, strong community who are there to emphasize and support them,” said Steve.

This Saturday, the hike will be hosted at Medway High School and neighbouring Weldon Park in Arva, just north of Masonville. Registration begins at 8 a.m., with the hike kicking off at 9 a.m. Along with the hike, which Steve says is not intense and is doable for anyone, there will be food trucks and games.

Registration costs $30, with 100 per cent of proceeds going to The Phoenix Canine Initiative to support more first responders to get the care Harvey received.

More information about Harvey’s story and the hike can be found at

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

Crisis Services Canada’s toll-free helpline provides 24-7 support at 1-833-456-4566.

Kids Help Phone operates a toll-free helpline at 1-800-668-6868 with 24-7 support for young people as well as the Crisis Text Line, which can be reached by texting HOME to 686868.

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The toll-free Hope for Wellness helpline provides 24-7 support for Indigenous Peoples at 1-855-242-3310. Online chat services are also available.

Trans Lifeline operates a toll-free peer support hotline for trans and questioning people at 1-877-330-6366.

For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention at