Steve Ziehr says having his leg amputated counts among the three best things to happen in his life thus far, right behind meeting his wife and the birth of their daughter. "I got my life back the day I had the surgery," says Steve, whose right leg was removed just below the knee. "The moment I woke up, I felt nothing but immense relief. The pain was gone, literally gone. I felt 20 years younger, I was seeing colours brighter. It was one of the most sublime moments I’ve ever experienced, next to the day I met my wife April and the day my daughter was born."
With the support of WCB, Steve has also been able to reinvent himself professionally, building a business that helps people with disabilities find meaningful work.
"I was able to make peace with my decision. I could look at myself in the mirror and know I had tried everything."
‐ Steve Ziehr
His journey began in April of 2004, when he was seriously injured in a workplace accident that saw him fall 30 feet from a rooftop in Calgary. A former skydiver, he credits knowing the importance of tucking and rolling during a fall with saving his life.
"Initially, I was falling straight down and I had enough time to throw my upper torso and get some momentum going," he explains. "When 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 fall destroyed his lower legs, but in particular his right ankle.
Surgeries didn’t solve the pain
In the ensuing years, he took pain medication and went through round after round of surgery, 17 in all. Chronic pain—pain he likens to a "blowtorch"—became his nemesis, his constant companion. He stopped taking medication and tried managing the pain through yoga, through pilates, through meditation.
Everything worked, for a time, but nothing ongoing.
Through it all, he managed to find employment but nothing he could sustain for long periods of time.
Trained in a new career
With the help of his case manager at WCB, he received vocational rehabilitation training, and majored in construction management at Calgary’s Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.
"Construction was my passion," says Steve. "It was a two-year program, but I got it done in 18 months."
The pain, meanwhile, seemed never‐ending, dogging his every step. Doctors had talked about amputation previously, and while initially resistant to the idea, Steve began to see it not only as an option, but as a solution to the relentless pain.
Making up for lost time
"I was able to make peace with my decision," he says. "I could look at myself in the mirror and know I had tried everything."
Now 42, he says he has been making up for lost time since the surgery; swimming, running, rock-climbing, snowboarding, all the things he used to do before the accident.
He continues working in construction as a project manager, but, thanks to a one-time grant from WCB, also spends a lot of time developing the Canadian branch of Paraworkforce. An international career development organization, it promotes diversity and inclusion in the workplace for persons with disabilities.
"People always say to me: ‘Man, you have a lot going on,’" says Steve. "And I tell them: Hey, I’ve been burning through my reserves for years, and I’m full again. I have things to do!"