WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – As we look ahead to New Year’s Eve, a Kansas man is helping wounded vets make a fresh start by getting them back on their feet. Steve Peeples builds prosthetics for amputees who come from around the country to his life-changing workshop in Wichita.
“I’m kinda like Geppetto,” Peeples said with a smile. “They pull out of a closet with my tools, and go over and work on legs and get people out of a bind.”
Hidden away in his small clinic on East Central, he’s making big strides for wounded vets.
“There’s a lot of people who would be shocked to see what goes on right here in this little office.” It’s not that he’s the only maker of prosthetics, but he may well be the pickiest.
“Re-doing stuff,” Peeples explained. “If it’s not perfect, re-doing it, making it a little better, re-doing it. That’s really all it is. ”
But it makes all the different to veterans like Matt Amos of Mt. Hope, who lost both legs in Afghanistan. Even with prosthetics, he spent three years using canes to walk, until he came here.
“The first set of sockets they made me, I dropped the canes in the office that day, and I haven’t used them since,” said Amos.
Other vets took notice.
“I saw Matt again,” said retired Marine, Brian Meyer. “And I said, ‘Matt, you’re doing really good,’ and he shared that with me, and I’m like, ‘What?'”
Brian now flies in from California for help with his prosthetics. The former explosives technician had an IED detonate in his hand, as he tried to dismantle it.
“That resulted in the loss of my right hand above the wrist, the right leg above the knee, and thumb, index and middle finger on my left hand.”
Yet a photo taken moments after the explosion shows him smiling, happy to be alive and with some limbs left.
“I enjoy showing people it’s not about what you lost,” said Meyer. “It’s about what you have left.”
In fact, Brian is now trying out a new prosthetic Steve developed for bow-hunting.
“I can clip into my bow,” said Meyer. “Once I harvest an animal, I can clip out of my bow, and clip into my knife or a hook, or I can clip in to my picture set-up so I can get photos.”
After tinkering at the clinic, they put it to the real test at the archery range.
As Brian fires two arrows close to the bullseye, it’s clear the prosthetic hits the mark and puts Brian back in the sport he loves.
“Peeples Prosthetics” is helping another vet reach her goals.
“My grand scheme is to compete in 2018 in South Korea,” said Kirstie Ennis, a retired Marine sergeant.
She learned to snowboard, after she was badly injured in a helicopter crash in 2012.
Kirstie was ranked fifth in the world until her leg had to be amputated above the knee a few months ago.
“You’re just like a child,” she said. “You have to get back up. You have to figure out how to walk again, and you have to figure out how to run. Your balance, your gait, everything is different.”
Because of Steve’s reputation, Kirstie also comes from California for a prosthetic that could handle extreme sports.
“My forte now is mountaineering and rock climbing. My goal is to do the 7 summits, which is unheard of for an above the knee amputee.”
A challenge that requires Steve to push the limits, too.
“We’re taught in a book to do it this way,” said Steve. “Experience teaches you that book smart doesn’t always mean anything. What can I take, see what other people are doing, put your own twist on it, and come up with something that actually works.”
It may take months and countless adjustments to get a prosthetic just right, but Steve sees it as his ‘thank you’ to military heroes.
“We’re blessed to be able to make some changes in people’s lives to let them get back to doing some really neat things,” said Steve with a nod. “It’s pretty humbling, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Matt Amos is such a believer, he now works for Peeples Prosthetics.
“That’s why I’m here,” said Matt. “To tell people just because you’re an amputee or whatever your disability is, you don’t have to stop doing what you love.”
“The easiest way to put it,” Kirstie added, “is Steve quite literally gets people back up on their own two feet. Without him, I wouldn’t be who I am.”