By Barb Pert Templeton For MediaNews Group 10/10/2019
Caring, supportive and a tremendous example of how someone can adapt and land on their feet, even if one of those feet fits into a prosthetic leg.
Those are some of the words used to describe Detroit resident Chris Casteel, 56, whose life changed tremendously in 1988 after a motorcycle accident caused him to become an above the knee amputee. He’s simply a “phenomenal guy,” said Casteel’s longtime friend Todd Salley, of Farmington Hills.
“It’s incredible what Chris has overcome, and he’s always thinking of others first,” Salley said. “He has such integrity and really I think his full-time job is just being a great guy.”
An avid rock climber, bronze medal winning kayaker in the Extremity Games and volunteer to earthquake survivors in Haiti, Casteel’s resume is impressive but his real personal triumph has been launching his own business in Detroit in 2011.
When Casteel opened Anew Life Prosthetics and Orthotics, he wanted to bring the best care and updated equipment to patients suffering limb loss. Anyone can see Casteel is the perfect advocate to promote his mantra: “There is life after limb loss.”
“I’m all about giving a hand-up,” Casteel said. “I got a wake-up call not to waste what you have and I don’t.”
Looking back – loses and gains
Casteel was born in Michigan but his family moved often when he was growing up because his father was in the military.
In 1988, in the first year of his marriage to wife Kim Casteel, he was aboard his Yamaha 650 motorcycle heading to work on the afternoon shift at a local manufacturer when his world changed in an instant.
“It was a hot August day and there was a winding curve in the road and a car crossed the center line and I hit my brake and it was just head on,” Casteel said.
After hitting the car’s windshield and bouncing off the hood Casteel came to lying in the middle of the road looking up at the blue sky through the trees.
“I remember I took off my helmet and looked down and my leg was in a really awkward position, my pant leg was red and my leg was like mush and I saw something white; it was my femur sticking out,” Casteel said.
The students in the car, which the driver had just purchased, were shook-up but not injured. Casteel said ironically an off-duty Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Deputy named Harley Rider happened upon the accident and he applied pressure to his injured leg so he didn’t bleed out.
He was hospitalized for two months while he recovered and then spent several years adjusting to a prosthetic leg while finding his way back to employment.
“It was amazing just how hard it was to get back up,” Casteel said. “But I’m a ‘my glass is half full guy’ so I went and got my Associates Degree in CNC programming and got a job where I could stand for an eight-hour shift if I needed to.”
Finding his true passion
After a couple of years, he returned to college again, got his bachelor’s degree in technology and was a plant manager for an auto supplier until he was laid off in 2002.
After hanging around the house all summer Casteel’s wife encouraged him to volunteer at the orthotics and prosthetics department at the University of Michigan. He did and several months later, they hired him.
“It was a very entry level position and a very humbling experience but I stayed for six years,” Casteel said, adding that he launched an amputee support group that’s still holding monthly meetings today.
Having now found his real passion, Casteel returned to school again at Eastern Michigan University’s Orthotics and Prosthetics degree program and became a Certified Prosthetist. The program included completing a two-year residency.
While completing that residency the place he was assigned to went out of business so he launched Anew Life Prosthetics and Orthotics.
Casteel said treating each client as an individual is what’s most important to him and he’s also upfront about what’s ahead for a new client suffering the loss of a limb.
“I tell patients their new leg is not magic, I ask them, did you salsa dance before and if the answer is no well they aren’t going to now,” smiled Casteel.
Brian Simpkins, 65, of Allen Park, is a testament to that patient care. When he lost his foot in May due to diabetes Casteel visited him at the rehabilitation center and reassured him that he would be okay.
“He told me what to expect and everything and I am so thankful,” Simpkins said.
After conducting scans and evaluations, a prosthetic was created just for him and after adjustments Simpkins is so comfortable with it, he’s already learned how to drive again.
“I was worried about the fit because I’d heard that can be bad but I wore it for 17-hours yesterday and didn’t even have a red mark,” Simpkins said. “I love those guys.”
When Casteel’s not busy helping those suffering the loss of a limb, he and his wife enjoy supporting local causes and hanging out in Detroit enjoying its recent resurgence.
It seems to be a good fit.
“He really is a renaissance man, he’s a giver and people who care about people can’t hide that and it just shines through in Chris,” Salley said.