ISPO Eulogy for Sepp Heim

I have often been challenged in my professional career but writing a eulogy for Mr. Sepp Heim, who has made such a significant impact on the lives and well-being of so many, is a very difficult task. His personal impact on me personally in terms as a colleague, mentor, father-figure and close confident is of the highest level. Expressing what needs to be stated to capture Sepp’s life and his impact on our professional area and ISPO itself is something hard to be satisfied with.

For those in the ISPO circles and in Prosthetics and Orthotics who are not yet aware, Mr. Sepp Heim passed suddenly at his home in Wangen, Germany on 23 April 2019. The day before his 85th birthday.

As many know, Sepp Heim was an ISPO President from 2001 to 2004 and served the Society in varying capacities on many Committees, Planning Groups for Congresses and Courses and related for around four decades. He had a long and dedicated career in the area of Prosthetics and Orthotics that spanned over 60 years. He stayed engaged in the profession in varying capacities after his time on the ISPO Board (2007) and was always there for many of us who needed his counsel and advice. All that being said, I believe it important to express, from the ISPO perspective, his dedication and commitment to the Society was second to none. ISPO in the bigger picture, is a better place for all the contributions he has made.

Mr Heim’s history in the Prosthetic and Orthotic profession goes back to his teen years when he worked in his Father’s facility in Berlin. After completing his apprenticeship, Sepp looked to gain his independence and professional identity and worked for some time in Hildesheim, Heidelberg and Paris and was often accompanied by his good friend and colleague Gerhard Fitzlaff (past ISPO Board member). Soon after these occurrences, Sepp ended up working in Frankfurt and then attained his German Master in Prosthetics and Orthotics. Bringing things full circle, he then returned to Berlin to again work at his Father’s facility. I always sensed the difficulties Sepp had working with this Father and I believe this was also the reason he felt strongly he needed to go abroad as he did in the years that followed. I can remember at least a couple of times him expressing the large respect he had for this Father and telling me of these incredible stories about his Father's career in the World War II era and the relationship his Dad had with the famous surgeon, Dr. Sauerbruch. Even though I am sure the relationship between Father and Son was contentious at times, I can still hear him saying in somewhat of a frustrated tone, “it’s because of my Father that I have to do the things I do”.

I believe it was in and around 1966, that Sepp decided to move himself and his family to Tunisia and there is no doubt this was the start of a string of events that lead to the incredible journey he would take forward and where his impact on ISPO manifested itself. He soon thereafter took on a position with the GTZ (translated as the - German Organization for Technical Cooperation) and it’s through this position his vision for the development of quality Prosthetic and Orthotic services in developing countries, through the delivery of standardized and recognized professional education, really began and was established. It was there in Tunisia where the first training center was formed with many more to follow through his own hands or through the others he mentored via his position with the GTZ. As a very interesting aside to the establishment of this training center in Tunisia, is that many decades later Sepp was a major influence in having the Human Study program establish a training program back in Tunisia. This program has been a great success in upgrading and training more Prosthetic and Orthotic practitioners in Tunisia at the ISPO standard.

Sepp’s work continued on other GTZ programs that were established in Togo (1974), Tanzania (1981) and then in Wuhan, China (1993). In that time frame, in 1987, he took on the position of the director of the BUFA program (Federal School of Prosthetics and Orthotics) in Dortmund, Germany for three years. Going forward Sepp was instrumental in his role with the GTZ in establishing further Prosthetic and Orthotic educational programs in Pakistan, Vietnam, El Salvador, Morocco and Armenia. Through this role Sepp mentored many colleagues and advised others that were in senior administrative and ministerial roles. To the end, he maintained his close relationships with former students and others he took under his wing. Many of them became significant leaders and role models in their own right.

I would be amiss not to mention the formal recognition and awards he received. Sepp was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Verdienstkreuz am Bande) in 1986, the Golden Bull award of the People’s Republic of China in 1996 and the Georg Hohmann Medal of the German Orthopedics and Orthopedic Surgery in 2001 in appreciation of his dedication to the field of Orthopedics.

Many of us in the ISPO circles all have all our own Sepp Heim stories and know the incredible impact this Man made on the Prosthetic and Orthotic world. I could tell many. Beyond what has been mentioned, I want to especially point to his insistence of having properly developed international standards, both at the practitioner and service levels. I watched him with my own eyes use those standards to convince various stakeholders and government officials they needed to raise the bar so those who required prosthetic and orthotic services would be able to rely on a care system that would provide a delivery system of standard and do so in a cost effective manner.

From my personal perspective, my own time with Sepp Heim, was an incredible 20 years plus journey where we together travelled to so many places pushing the ISPO agenda forward. Along the way I was taught so much about how to do this, take the lead, build proper relationships and encouraged to do so in my own way and style. At the same time, I was put in my proper place by Mr. Heim when needed. Through this time he prepared me well for my own ISPO Presidency. He was one of my main mentors and P&O Fathers and I will always be indebted to him for so much. What a great human spirit Sepp was and the legacy he has left for all of us needs to be carried on and taken further by the next generation.

One last part of this story that needs to be told is around the lifetime of support that Sepp’s wife, Imogen, unselfishly always gave around his family and professional life. This support was instrumental in Sepp being able to achieve what he did. Sepp is survived not only by his wife Imogen, but also his sons; Ekkehard, Winfried and Joachim, his daughters in law; Katrin and Susan, and also his two granddaughters; Caroline and Isabel.

To close, I remember fondly my last trip to visit him and Imogen at their home in south-west Germany in May 2018. We always had great conversations about so much and during this visit he once again said to me, “without engagement in life Dan, there isn’t so much to live for anymore”. This in itself epitomizes Sepp and who he was.

Quotes and comments received from friends and colleagues after learning of Mr Heim’s passing.

Lloyd Feinburg, past manager of USAID's Displaced Children and Orphans Fund, Leahy War Victims Fund, and the Victims of Torture Fund
Very sorry to receive this news. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Sepp but he was certainly a major force for service who “made a huge difference”. As I look back from my comfortable / uncomfortable days of retirement, I am thankful and honoured to have been a small part of the world that Sepp had such an important role in creating.

Michael Rechsteiner
I’m very sad and sorry I cannot find the right words right now. Sepp was a great mentor and to me and I feel enormous respect and gratitude towards him.

Brendan McHugh
I have many happy memories of my time as Hon Secretary of ISPO and Sepp was an important part of this. It was a privilege to work with him Carolyn and I send our sincere condolences to Sepp's family and friends.‬

Bill Neumann
He was a pillar in the O&P profession, a truly great & dedicated leader. I am saddened & shall miss his friendship & wisdom.‬

Ritu Ghosh
Dan thank you for sharing. He advised and guided me throughout my career since the ISPO Hong Kong World Congress. I was fortunate to work with him on many occasions and learnt. It is a personal loss for me and deepest condolences to his family.‬

Carson Harte
Sepp was a very very good friend to me, and his friendship was based on his ability to check and challenge. I remember very well, when I was making the strategic plan for the SE Asian schools, I asked him for his opinion. His red pen had been busy when we met in San Salvador, and we talked thru every detail of the plan. The criticism was professional and constructive, Audrey said afterwards, "if Sepp approves, it must be ok"‬.

Liaquat Ali Malik
He contributed a lot to Profession. He was pioneer of Pakistan Institute of Prosthetic and Orthotic Sciences. May his soul rest in peace.‬

Sisary Kheng
Indeed very sad news. Our heartfelt condolences. May he rest in peace. We all have great memories of his work and contributions to the development of the profession and capacity building of young people in every corner of the world. ‬

Robin Seabrook
A true loss of an impactful man.‬

Volker Schmidt
A legend in O&P, there is even a room‬ named after him at the school in Lomé, Togo‬. He has done many good things in Africa.

Thomas Iwalla
Life emanates from love; this love was lived fully in Sepp Heim's life. During my final year exams, he asked me: "Thomas, you have made a wonderful Transfemoral socket, do you see what I see?" I was at a great loss. I jokingly asked him to lend me his eyes so that I could see what he saw. He saw a total contact socket perfectly fitting the patient. Rest in Peace Sepp Heim. May his family gather the courage to forge on with courage and determination.