When former West Park patient Jakob Kepka enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 1981, he was introduced to an unofficial motto, semper gumby, meaning “always flexible.” Not only did this motto get Kepka through the Marine Corps, but it helped him get through the many chapters of his life, including having his leg amputated.
Jakob’s issues with his right leg began in 1979 after a workplace injury, which was treated with repeated Cortisone shots before Kepka’s knee eventually broke down and he underwent six knee replacements and revisions between 2001 and 2013. While doing physical rehabilitation for the sixth knee replacement at West Park Healthcare Centre in February of 2014, Kepka checked himself out of West Park to have his right leg amputated.
Returning to West Park after his amputation, Kepka was moved to the amputee rehabilitation unit where he completed two months of rehab, eventually walking out on a prosthetic leg and mechanical knee, aided only by a cane, in April of the same year. He credits his speedy recovery to multiple sessions and many hours each day in the rehab gym.
In September of the same year, Kepka was approved for and received a bionic knee that would allow him a more diverse range of capabilities. He returned to West Park’s outpatient rehabilitation clinic for eight months, learning the skills necessary to walk on his new bionic knee.
“When I was doing rehab for the second time at West Park, I said I wanted to walk so well that people would have a hard time telling I’m an amputee,” Kepka says of his perseverance. “I wanted to return to the activity level I was at before, and I wanted to do it as fast as possible.”
Always one to accomplish what he puts his mind too, Kepka relearned to not only walk extremely well with a prosthetic leg, but to cycle with and without one, as well.
Due to his chronic knee problems, Kepka was forced to give up cycling in the late 1990s, but he aspired to start again once he had his leg removed. The strength and perseverance that served him in the many adventures of his earlier life helped him recover from his amputation.
One of those adventures was enlisting in the US Marine Corps, despite being a Canadian citizen.
“I initially signed up to be in the Canadian army, but it was taking too long to be accepted,” Kepka says. “Everyone told me I couldn’t, so I wanted to prove them wrong. I got impatient and went across the border to show them that I could.”
Throughout his life, Kepka has earned a degree in theology and medieval history at Ottawa University, lived and studied at a monastery for eight years, volunteered oversees, and most recently, set a record of cycling 400 consecutive laps in four hours, maintaining a speed of 30 kilometres an hour at the Bromont Velodrome in Quebec.
Many people – including patients he befriended while at West Park – looked up to Kepka as an inspiration during his recovery. Kepka doesn’t quite see himself that way, though.
“What I do doesn’t take courage,” Kepka insists. “It’s who I am. The people who aren’t like me, but who push themselves to do their rehab every day and make changes in their life, those people have courage.”
After Kepka completed physical rehab at West Park, he was able to get back to his athletic lifestyle and reap all the physical, mental, and emotional benefits that come with it. With the help of donations from peers and Operation Rebound towards his 400-lap ride, Kepka is currently working to give that same sense of wellbeing to other military veterans and first responders by setting up a program where they can have access to the equipment and space to incorporate cycling into their lives.
A true vision of what West Park strives to give their patients, Kepka was able to get back the very best parts of his life and he is actively working on using his second chance to help other people like him, both in and out of his community.