As a high school drama teacher, actor and radio DJ, Edmonton’s Christian Zyp is known for making people laugh.
Somehow, a series of amputations hasn’t destroyed that sense of humour.
On Feb. 28, 2016, while watching the Academy Awards (one of his favourites), Zyp’s heart started racing and he felt short of breath. His wife, Trina Heron, took him to the University of Alberta Hospital emergency department. That’s when they realized how serious the situation was.
“All of a sudden, there were more residents coming into the (emergency) room, and then I was taken out of the room and asked to gown up and put on a mask,” Heron said.
“They induced me… like, ‘Count backwards from 100,'” Zyp said. “And essentially, that was it for six weeks.”
Zyp, who was 44 at the time, had contracted a rare form of meningitis. His organs were failing fast and sepsis had started to turn his skin black. During his medically induced coma, doctors removed both of his legs below the knee and part of his right hand. They also took the skin from his back for skin grafts.
“It was a period of… one loss after another,” Heron recalled, in tears.
Zyp said he was semi-aware during the coma. So when he finally woke up after six weeks, the state of his body wasn’t entirely surprising.
“It wasn’t necessarily a shock… like that moment in Doctor Strange where he looks down at his hands and he’s like, ‘Oh nooo,” Zyp quipped. “It was more like, ‘Oh yeah. I was pretty sure this was what was going on.'”
Despite the dark days, there were a number of light moments. Heron recorded the small victories on her phone, including a video of her husband gleefully eating a popsicle for the first time. The treat was a test to see if he could swallow safely.
“Popsicle Day will always be one of our biggest days because he was just happy to have anything,” Heron smiled.
When Zyp was finally stable enough to transfer to the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in June 2016, he quickly became a popular patient.
“(Zyp’s sense of humour) is very unique… and a bit of an acquired taste,” occupational therapist Dan Yeung laughed.
“The amount of pain and grief that he’s gone through has been tremendous, and he has shown so much resilience.”
Rehabilitation included weeks of strengthening his core and thighs to be able to use prosthetic legs. He finally stood up on the steel limbs 136 days after falling ill.
“I wanted the skies to crack open, I wanted doves to fly out of the floor,” Zyp recalled. “But it was another step of, ‘OK, you reached this level. Now you have to get to another level.'”
Zyp is now able to do most of the things he enjoyed before, just in new ways. He is on the wait list for a kidney transplant but returned to teaching full-time in May 2017.
Glenrose staff will honour him with a Courage Award on Oct. 2.
Zyp feels everyone who helped him deserves the recognition, especially his wife.
“It’s hard for me, of course, being in this state. But to know that someone that you love is hurt like that, it’s tough,” Zyp said, his voice cracking.
“I was very lucky in that (my wife) gave me a lot of strength in trying to move forward.”
Watch below: In part two of Christian Zyp’s story, the Edmonton drama teacher returns to work full time after a devastating illness. He credits his students and co-workers with helping to save his life. Su-Ling Goh has more.