Tour operator area manager Dan Coachafer was preparing to travel back to Tignes for his seventh season last November, when he was hit with some life-changing news. A bone infection meant he faced having his foot amputated.
It was a devastating blow for the mountain lover and keen snowboarder, who says: “That was when it really hit home and I released how serious the issue was. At that point you start to think about how amputees still live the life they want and what you might need to get your head around to continue living the life you have chosen.”
In an emergency operation a week after the diagnosis, specialists at the Nuffield Orthopedic hospital in Oxford managed to save the foot, including the toe that bore the brunt of the infection. But recovery could take 2 years, much of it in a wheelchair. After a second reconstruction operation Dan says it was the positivity of his surgeon Mark Rogers, who insisted “I want to see you back on a snowboard”, that made him determined to get there – and in half the time it was supposed to be possible.
He spent the next few months trying to get back to full fitness in his wheelchair with the goal of completing the Lincoln 10k race in his wheelchair and raising money for the hospital. Every day at 7am he cycled the 18k round trip to the swimming pool, swam a mile, then did a 6.2k circuit in his wheelchair. Dan completed the race on 18 April in one hour and four minutes, raising an amazing £2257.26!
He says the race marked the end of the first phase of his recovery: “It was the final curtain, the passing out parade. The feeling was that if I could do this I am now ready. With every push of the wheels I was thinking this is to say thanks for someone that has unconditionally helped me so this hour and a half of pain is nothing and the very least I can do to help in return.”
Now he’s still doing the same daily circuit but he’s swapped the wheelchair for a pair of trainers and is already walking; “an amazing feeling when previously I had been faced with potentially loosing a foot.”
Dan’s problems started when he spent 10 days working in mud and rain to clear a flooded campsite for a job in Germany two years ago. After getting blisters and cuts on his feet, the left side of the left foot became infected and inflamed. Antibiotics cleared it up but every 4 months or so the problem would return and require more antibiotics to control the swelling. After a 10-day stint in hospital in Italy last summer doctors thought they’d cured the foot but during an inter-season trip to India it flared up following a stroll on the beach and doctors there diagnosed a bone infection. Flying back to his hometown of Lincoln for an MRI scan, doctors confirmed the diagnosis and warned him the infected bone may need removing, or possibly the whole foot. He was transferred to Nuffield where he says the care by NHS staff, which led to his foot being saved, was “phenomenal”. The infected bone was removed, his heel moved an inch to the left and held with a 6-inch screw, a tendon transferred from right to left and big toe raised.
Last month Dan handed surgeon Mr Rogers a letter to go with the money he raised “to prove that the effort and energy you have so kindly spent on me will not go to waste. My next goal is to get back on my snowboard this coming winter and when I do I’ll send you a snap shot. I’ll never forget what you have done for me and I promise you this new foot will get the use it deserves.” He says: “In my eyes Mark is a god who has performed a miracle for me and given me at least another 30 years of full two-footed life. It’s been far from easy with many ups and downs, the pain has been exhausting, draining and stressful however they do say if something doesn’t kills us it only makes us stronger.”
Dan says he’s also received incredible support from the close-knit Tignes community: “I have had messages and phone calls of support throughout the entire journey. Even before I knew what was going on the support and encouragement from the people of Tignes was an enormous help and many Tignes friends have donated and supported me before, during and after the race. One hundred percent I’ll be there in November this year ready to hit the hill again.”
Dan has now visited the hospital for what he hopes was the final time and says: “I walked out a new man. My foot feels and looks great and I`m getting out and about easier than ever before.”
So this winter, if you bump into the happiest-looking bloke on the mountain, make sure you say “hey Dan” and give him a high five.
If you want to support Dan you can still make a donation on his JustGiving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/DanCoachafer