Interview with Christoffer Lindhe – 17° that mean the world

Life affects us all, sooner or later. Things don’t always go as planned – someone else gets the job we want, people who are important to us disappear from our lives, we still aren’t satisfied when we finally get what we’ve strived for. All of us meet with adversities, but what defines us is how we handle these trials. Few have been tried as harshly, and handled their ordeals as impressively, as Christoffer Lindhe.

– Logically speaking, I shouldn’t be alive today. The people at the hospital told me that ten entirely separate factors combined to keep me from bleeding to death on the railroad tracks. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was unusually cold that summer night, if I hadn’t been in such good shape physically, if the police hadn’t responded so quickly and recently undergone a rescue training course…

In the summer of 2006, Christoffer was 17 years old and had, like so many others from Ulricehamn, travelled to Varberg with some of his friends. After a night out, he decided to hike back to the camp a bit earlier than the others. He remembers being followed by three people, along with a sense of threat and hostility, but after that everything is black. When he woke up, ten days had passed and both of his legs and his left arm had been amputated.

We will probably never know exactly what happened that night, but it is likely that Christoffer managed to outrun his pursuers. His flight took him into the dark forest, where he tripped over the railroad tracks and hit his head, causing him to pass out. By then, the goods train was already heading towards him. Despite the fact that the people who pursued him haven’t come forward, Christoffer isn’t vengeful or even angry.

– They must have lost track of me, because if they had seen me lying there unconscious on the tracks they wouldn’t have left me like that, he says. That’s not something normal people would do. No, I was just extremely unlucky to both fall and land exactly on the railroad tracks. Imagine being a 17-year-old, waking from a morphine-induced nightmare and suddenly unable to do anything at all.

One day an elite sportsman, the next unable to sit up of your own accord. A prisoner in your own body. All of your dreams and plans for the future crushed. How would you handle that? The doctors’ prognosis was equally glum: It would take years of rehabilitation for Christoffer to be able to resume living a normal life, including studying and managing to some extent on his own. What they hadn’t taken into account was that Christoffer is a young man of exceptional resolve. In the beginning he, understandably enough, descended into complete darkness, thinking he had nothing left to live for. One day, however, his father brought a film about a man who had suffered an accident similar to his with him to the hospital.

– Cameron Clapp has meant a lot to me, Christoffer says, in the film he showed that it is possible to live a normal life. To walk, run, drive a car, all of the things I took for granted before the accident. I thought that if Cameron can do it, so can I. It was that film that convinced me.

After only six months, his astonished doctors were able to discharge Christoffer from the hospital. He resumed his high school studies, and was able to catch up so that he graduated with his original class. Things went better than anyone had dared to dream. And then there was his beloved swimming. He simply had to immerse himself in the water of the swimming pool, which had been such a large and important part of his life.

– My body instinctively adapted to moving in the water, and I managed all four strokes immediately, he says. Quite incredible, really, but it made me very happy, and I immediately began to practice hard.

That Christoffer exceeded his own, and even more so others’, expectations is something of an understatement. Less than two years after he awoke, helpless in a hospital bed and unable to sit up without assistance, he qualified for the Paralympics in Beijing. Four years later, in London in 2012, he finished in fourth place. An amazing, improbable achievement.

– It was proof to myself that I had not let the accident limit me, that I had won. At the same time, the relatively poor construction of the prostheses that I used annoyed me. Indoors, I had learned to walk almost as well as before the accident, but as soon as I encountered uneven ground I had difficulty maintaining my balance.

After high school, Christoffer studied to become a development engineer at Halmstad University. This wasn’t really anything new, as he had always liked to tinker with his moped, but now he had a clear goal. His degree project was a study of balance in leg prostheses. His conclusion was that prosthetic feet are too rigid as compared to real feet: As a result of their inability to adapt to uneven ground, they are unable to assist the limb in absorbing the strain which, due to the leverage, is many times higher.

– The idea to create better, more flexible prosthetic feet forms the foundation of our company, Lindhe Xtend, he says. This is easier said than done, however. Now, after many prototypes and much hard work, we have a solution that has received an amazing response from all of the test patients. The most critical of the testers is Christoffer himself, and he’s not afraid to subject the prostheses to anything from mountain hikes to paddling a surfing board. He talks about the new, flexible prosthetic foot, which offers the hard-toattain ‘right feeling’ for balance. The first products were released on the market in early 2016, but his ambitions do not end there.

– The future of prostheses is definitely in smart materials. As I’m from Ulricehamn which is close to Borås, I already knew about Smart Textiles and what they do, Christoffer says. When I contacted them with an idea in mind, it turned out that someone else had already come up with something similar. Together, we started a new, large project in collaboration with Smart Textiles. Through its clear focus on the user perspective, the project will revolutionise the entire prosthetics industry – I’m sure of it.

During his 26 years on earth, Christoffer Lindhe has experienced and achieved more than most of us will in a whole lifetime. In addition to everything else, he and his girlfriend Martina are expecting their first child in December. Isn’t he afraid that he’ll miss out on an ordinary life, between all the practice, the work for his company and the lectures that he gives?

– I was given a very clear reminder that life can end in an instant, and that’s why I want to do all of the important things right away – although I’m also aware of the fact that I’ve sacrificed a lot, he says. I always try to stay open to re-evaluating the things I do, and perhaps my priorities will change when the baby arrives.

The accident has taken a lot away from Christoffer, and not a day passes when he doesn’t wish he had his legs and arm back. At the same time, however, the accident gave him a great deal, awaking in him an inner drive – to prove that the impossible is in fact possible, provided one keeps fighting and doesn’t give up.

– I’m not at all satisfied with the way prostheses work today. I’m positive our research will result in better solutions, which will mean helping prosthetics users to have a better life, in which they have more control day-to-day. If my story can inspire others while I’m at it, that’s fantastic, and I hope it will.

Text: Elof Ivarsson
Photo: Ida Lindström