Sepp Heim

Sepp Heim had a passion for the global prosthetic and orthotic field. He was involved in promoting and enhancing the profession until his last day, willingly giving advice and support for the ever-evolving profession that he helped build to achieve worldwide recognition. His vision to establish world-wide educational standards to enable self-sustainability in the developing world became a career-long mission that he tirelessly pursued.

He grew up in Berlin in the 1930’s and fell into the profession by default when he had no other choice but to assume responsibility for the prosthetic and orthotic family business when his father became ill in order to salvage the uncertainty of the family’s livelihood. After completing his apprenticeship, he set off as a journeyman, traveling to Hildesheim, Heidelberg, Berlin, Paris and back to Berlin before ending up in Frankfurt for two years before attaining his German Master in Prosthetics and Orthotics. After returning to Berlin and with his father back at the helm of the business, the harmony between father and son was strained and in 1966, Sepp decided to move his family to Tunisia to accept a position at the military hospital in conjunction with the Ministry of Social Welfare in Tunis. Little did he realize that this was the beginning of his unforgettable lifelong career.

Starting an Orthopaedic Training Centre

In 1970, his work in Tunis eventually led to a position with the former German Organization for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), an organization that conveyed technical knowledge as well as the transference of organizational and economic expertise worldwide. His initial project entailed building an orthopaedic training centre in Tunis, based on the Prosthetic training standards outlined in United Nations Holte Report using the German dual training system, a combination of practical experience with structured theoretical classroom-based study as its foundation. The first training centre established in Tunis was the startup of Sepp’s mission which was to provide formal training in prosthetic and orthotics for developing countries.

This was His Legacy

Sepp’s legacy is the development of an education system for the profession that embodies clear curriculum objectives and establishes training resources to develop formally recognized professionals who have the knowledge and skills to sustain local future care requirements independently. In addition, the importance of introducing modern prosthetic and orthotic care in combination with the traditional methods in place locally was key, as was the development of a national structure involving governmental support to build a nationwide care system that ensures access to cost effective and affordable devices, including funding support for renewal and repair of devices for the entire disabled population.

Expanding into Other Projects

This education concept model was expanded throughout the years and implemented in various other projects following Tunisia. Sepp moved with his family to Togo in 1974 to start up CNAO serving the West African nations and following that to Tanzania in 1981 where he established TATCOT for the English-speaking nations. In 1987 he assumed the position of school principal at the Federal School of Prosthetics and Orthotics (BUFA) in Dortmund, Germany for three years and returned to GTZ before taking on a new challenge to support the establishment of the Prosthetic and Orthotic school in Wuhan, China in 1993. Throughout his tenure, he was a strong contributor and mentor to many colleagues and dignitaries and was renowned internationally for his achievements and passion for the P&O profession. He influenced other projects and provided support to many other projects that were established in Pakistan, Vietnam and El Salvador, just to name a few. He maintained close relationships with former students who graduated and became leaders and educators in the field themselves and still continue the cycle he once started. Sepp was rewarded various honorary awards throughout his career including 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 Orthopaedics and Orthopedic Surgery in 2001 in appreciation of his dedication. He was the president of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO) from 2001 to 2004. Sepp provided consultancy services for many years after his official retirement from GTZ in 1996. He continued to be involved in supporting various education programs and was a strong supporter of e-learning which he believed was the next generation of disseminating his legacy to the next level of the education process. Sepp is remembered by his family as a beloved father who provided experiences of a lifetime.

Diversity to Cherish the Beauty of Nature

Circumstance required the family to grow up in diverse environments where they learned about various cultures and experienced the lands of Africa that helped them to understand and cherish the beauty of nature in its various forms and shapes. The exotic trips, the beaches, the heat of the Sahara Desert and the excitement of exploring the new countries leaves the family with memories that will never fade. Sepp’s success was made possible through the strong support of his wife, Imogen, who was his rock, his confidante, the love of his life. They were a formidable team. She managed all aspects of the family’s affairs, through all the challenges that accompany their interesting but transient lifestyle, always ensuring the strength of the family bond remained intact, and she remained at his side until he passed peacefully on April 23, 2019.