Now Or Never

Why I chose to have my leg amputated

On April 7, 2004, Steve Ziehr fell 30 feet off a roof. The fall obliterated his right ankle. Over a decade of surgeries, medication, and pain management later, he decided to have his leg amputated. Now, he's getting his life back, one step at a time.
On April 7, 2004, Steve Ziehr fell 30 feet off a roof. The fall obliterated his right ankle. Over a decade of surgeries, medication, and pain management later, he decided to have his leg amputated. Now, he's getting his life back. 0:51
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Steve Ziehr looks back on August 30, 2016 as the day he got his life back. That day he underwent an elective amputation, having his right leg removed a few inches below the knee.

However, it was another day 12 years earlier, when his saga began.  

On April 7, 2004, Ziehr was working as a carpenter in Calgary when he fell 30 feet off a roof. He credits his skydiving training with saving his life.

"They hammer it into you that you can't land straight up and down, you have to tuck and roll otherwise your legs will end straight up inside you," he said. 

Loren Schubert (right), of Barber Prosthetic Clinic shows Steve Ziehr the running leg he'll be using to run for the first time in 13 years. Ziehr is one of a number of amputees trying out the new prosthetics at the Fitness Revolution Sport Clinic held on April 19, 2017 at the Richmond Olympic Oval in Richmond, B.C. (Chantelle Bellrichard)
While his fall only lasted a few milliseconds, Ziehr explained that it seemed to happen in slow motion. He recalled how he had enough time to put his training into action. 

Steve Ziehr's smile lights up the room as he takes his first pain-free step with his new prosthetic leg. (Photo submitted by Steve Ziehr)
"I was falling initially straight down and I had enough time to throw my upper torso and get some momentum going. As I landed my feet basically stayed planted and all the force and shock exploded out the side of my ankles. I ended up lying on my side with my feet still firmly planted on the ground."

The next 12 years were a revolving door of pain management. The fall had obliterated his lower legs, especially his right ankle. Ziehr underwent 17 surgeries and was placed on a rotating prescription of opioids.

"In a sense I've quit heroin eight times," he said.

To manage the pain he also tried yoga, Pilates, and meditation, all with varying degrees of success. While Ziehr had a talented and dedicated team of doctors and caregivers, the management systems just weren't enough. 

"If something would work it was always a temporary fix, whether it be months to maybe a few years. But then bang the pain would come back in earnest and I'd have to halt my life, career and family and focus solely on finding a solution for the pain."

Eventually, it was all too much.

A closer look at the running leg Steve Ziehr was provided by Ottobock and Barber Prosthetic Clinic. (Chantelle Bellerichard)
"Every step I took. Every step for 12 years had some level of pain. And the base level was somebody with a blowtorch on may ankle. That was the minimum."

Finally, after a particularly bad episode Ziehr decided to opt for amputation. For him, it was the right choice.

"I've made three very good decisions in my life: the first one was my wife, the second was having our daughter, and the third was having that amputation and taking that first step without pain." 

Today, Ziehr is well into the healing process and is almost ready for his final prosthetic leg. He's funneling his new lease on life into building a business that helps people with disabilities find meaningful work. He's also trying new things, like running with a special running leg. 

"I'm going to have a whole closet full of different feet: scuba leg, swim leg, wakeboarding, kiteboarding... and I'm not even kidding, we're going to get some skydiving happening!"

Click LISTEN above to hear Steve's full story, and hear him run for the first time in 13 years.