Skip to content

Hard to kill: Richmond biker laughs off traumatic accident

John Sayer, who lost his left leg while cruising along Williams Road in March, presented some original prints to the paramedics who saved his life

The pulsing of rain battering off windows and the hum of rush hour traffic streaming by in the dark was drowned out by the roars of laughter filling the ambulance station at Williams and No. 1 roads Monday.

No one had cracked a joke, however, and no one was showing off the latest crazy video gone viral on YouTube.

The late Monday afternoon mirth was, instead, generated by paramedics recanting the immediate aftermath of trying to save the life of motorcyclist John Sayer, who had his left leg torn off above the knee and his arms mangled in a horrific road accident in March.

Not really a comedy moment?

Then you don’t know Sayer, who has been in motorcycle accidents before and is on his third pacemaker, due to a genetic heart condition.

He’s such a survivor, his friends, even before the accident, had dubbed him “Hard to Kill,” after a 1990 Steven Seagal movie.

“Everyone was kind of ripping us (for apparently forgetting his foot). But everything was in the ambulance,” recalled Warren Kniepkamp, an advanced life support paramedic based at the station, much to the amusement of 59-year-old Sayer.

“There was a small piece of tissue still at the scene I think. Another ambulance was dispatched to get it.

“I still remember (Sayer) yelling at me to give him something and I said ‘I have given you something, I’ve given you everything I have.’ I gave him enough drugs to drop an elephant.”

Moments earlier at the station, Sayer, a former elevator mechanic of 15 years, had met all three of his “life-savers” — Kniepkamp and his primary care paramedic colleagues, Alison Goerwell and Taryn Overhill — for the first together since that fateful day in March.

Sayer, who now uses a prosthetic leg, is also a part-time artist and presented the trio of paramedics with original prints of their choice, as a “small token” of his appreciation.

It was an emotional moment for Sayer, who spent eight months living in Holy Family recovery hospital in Vancouver and only got out last week.

He took his first step with his new leg just five weeks ago and showed the picture that momentous occasion to the paramedics.

“We’re always being yelled at and stuff, so this is so nice to meet him,” said Overhill.

Goerwell said it is “amazing to see (an accident victim) afterwards. We don’t normally get to see them. To see him walking around is very gratifying.”

Laughing, but clearly fighting back tears at the same time, Sayer said seeing the paramedics once again was “awesome. I love it. And I get to share my art with them.”

Screaming with pain

It was a Sunday afternoon and Sayer was on his pride and joy — a 2008 Harley Davidson — riding along Williams Road, just past Railway Avenue en route to Steveston to get some bike maintenance done.

“I don’t know whether they were texting or not, that’s for the court to decide,” Sayer said of seeing, in the blink of an eye, a vehicle hurtling towards him in his lane.

“They crossed the centre line for no apparent reason. I had no chance. They took out my whole side, leg and everything.
“I remember the accident. I remember going ‘what?’ I remember laying on the ground and realizing my leg was missing and seeing a big pool of blood and thinking, ‘I’m going to bleed to death.’

“I yelled ‘knock me out.’ Then Warren, I think, started to cut my jacket off and that’s the last thing I remember.”

Shortly after arriving at hospital in Vancouver, Sayer’s wife, Sue, was called into the operating room to say her last goodbyes, as doctors didn’t expect him to survive.

Survive he did, before slipping into a coma for nine days.

“When I woke up, I thought my face was torn off,” he said.

“All these tubes and stuff were all over my face and remember thinking, ‘what kind of mask shall I make? A happy mask? A mean mask?’

“When I first saw my wife I asked her to bring me a mirror.

“When I saw I had a face, I started crying. Nothing else really mattered after that.”

As well as losing his left leg just above the knee, he had a shattered wrist and elbow, multiple fractures on his arms, multiple broken ribs and internal injuries, including to his lungs.

Sayer has very limited movement in his arms, especially his right. Both have multiple plates and screws to patch them together.

He joked that he’s now left-handed.

“But I’m alive!” he bellowed, while talking to the Richmond News at his home in south Richmond, which has every conceivable space bedecked with his abstract art, aside a small space he “allows” for his wife’s Tragically Hip tribute.

Suffice to say, Sayer, who was an avid skier, golfer, motorcyclist and dog walker before the accident, is a rather upbeat kind of guy.

“I was like that before the accident; I’ve always been a positive person,” he said, while putting on his prosthetic leg, with the help of his eight-year-old dog, Dexter.

“I do get depressed, though, and I’ve broken down a couple of times. When I get upset, the phantom pain kicks in with a vengeance. It’s like a dull roar. It’ll always be there when I get upset, which, thankfully, isn’t too often. It helps that I’m a positive person.”

First step

Five weeks ago, Sayer flew his daughter in from Calgary for a very special moment at Holy Family.

“It was my first step (since the accident),” he beamed.

Extended family and friends, about a couple of dozen or so, came from all over to witness the moment.

“It was special.”

Over the next few months, and likely years, there’s a lot of work ahead for Sayer, who has a daily exercise regime for using his walker and strengthening his muscles.

“It’s going to be a long process. I’m waiting for operations on my arms and hopefully they’re taking some plates out at some point.

“I can walk the dog with the help of my friends. If I didn’t have them, and my great wife, I’d be in a lot worse shape.

“But I’m lucky to be alive. (The paramedics) were on the scene so quick and made the right decisions and got me to hospital as quickly as possible. I owe my life to these guys.

“I’ve been reborn, several times. It feels like it’s my birthday every day.”