Capetonian Paul Steyn was just 13 years old when doctors told him they’d have to amputate his right leg.
It was 2000 and Steyn, a foster child born in Potchefstroom, had been in hospital for over a year after a tractor pulling a lawnmower didn’t see him, knocked him over, then reversed over his foot.
“After spending nearly a year in hospital, my leg was eventually amputated below the knee because gangrene had set in,” he said.
It was the start of a long nightmare which saw him wait for about three years before he could raise the money for a prosthetic leg.
Those were the toughest years of his life, Steyn recalled.
But today the 29-year-old has overcome the emotional and physical challenge, becoming – of all things – a professional stuntman.
Now Steyn is giving back, setting up the Paul Steyn Foundation in 2012 with the aim of raising funds for amputees, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds who cannot afford prosthetic limbs.
In the past four years Steyn has been able to help 11 amputees with prostheses, costing on average R50 000 each. August earmarked the start of his biggest fundraising and awareness campaign when he began a 7 000km walk from the V&A Waterfront, traversing all nine provinces on his way to Joburg, while collecting 2 500 committed debit orders for his foundation’s work.
He’s now at the halfway mark, having walked 3 500km through parts of Cape Town, George, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Bloemfontein. Steyn walks an average of 25-30km a day, doing the job without a support team. Instead he pushes along a wagon of essentials behind him as he goes.
There’s been limited sponsorship for his campaign and he said he spent most nights in the homes of people he met along the route. He has visited schools, churches and other community organisations to raise awareness.
He is now in Mpumalanga and expects to complete his journey by October.
Of the challenges he’s faced, Steyn said he had “a few niggles” with his prosthetic leg, and also suffered a stump abscess.
“I’ve also had many flat tyres on the wagon. Sometimes the high summer heat has been unbearable and I had to start in the early morning hours to try to finish the walk before midday. Because I have no support vehicle, I have had to cut out certain sections of the route where it would have been impossible to walk with everything I needed for long stretches, especially water.
“I have made up the parts I could not walk on other sections of the journey to keep the distance to the initially planned 7 000km.”
The wagon he left Cape Town with had also “morphed considerably”.
“It used to be a small box on two wheels, but now it is a large box on four wheels that I use. It weighs about 130kg fully packed and, yes, it makes the walk much harder. I dread it when I see a hill.”
The foundation assists three or four amputees annually and Steyn said he was working to get as many debit orders signed as was possible.
“We have a database of more than 100 amputees who have approached us for help. It would be great if we could assist at least one every month,” he said.
Apart from raising funds, Steyn also wanted to show the public and his fellow amputees that with a high-quality prosthesis, amputees could live a relatively normal life.
“I want to raise awareness about the high cost of quality prosthetic limbs. Quality matters because one can feel the difference. Medical aid companies will pay literally millions to try to save a limb in hospital, but once it is amputated very few pay a reasonable amount towards artificial limbs.”
To donate directly or for more info on the Paul Steyn Foundation… please click here.