Troy Donahoo had already flipped his kayak twice on Campbell Creek on a recent evening when he turned a corner, caught more logs and tipped again. This time, his leg fell off.
Donahoo, 53, has been using a prosthetic leg since his was amputated below the knee in 2019 following a work accident at a construction site.
When the fast-moving creek waters swept away the black and green prosthetic Saturday night, Donahoo figured it might be gone forever. But it set off a search by fellow paddlers, and a few days later volunteers found the prosthetic leg in the creek — farther than expected from where Donahoo had lost it.
He and two friends had taken off around 6:30 or 7 p.m. Saturday, putting their kayaks in the creek near Lake Otis Parkway, he said. Donahoo, a self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie,” was excited by the swift current and high water and has been kayaking for years.
As they paddled around a corner south of Taku Lake, Donahoo saw his friends’ kayaks tip over.
“We went around a corner where the logs were all wadded up and we had one little spot to go,” Donahoo said. “They both tipped over, and I thought I was free and clear. And then right at the last second, I tipped over.”
As he tried to extract himself from the creek, the force of the current pulled off his prosthetic leg. It was hard to navigate his way to shore with only one leg, but Donahoo said he eventually made it to the creek bank. By then, it was about 12:30 a.m. His kayak had washed down the creek, along with his prosthetic leg, his phone and his ID.
The only way to get out of the area on foot involved walking up a big hill, something Donahoo — cold and wet at that point — knew would be impossible on one leg. He said he called the fire department for help, thinking he’d make do with crutches and a blanket, but fire department personnel helped him up the bank and to a gurney before pushing him along the trail.
Donahoo and the others eventually regrouped. It was about 4 a.m. Sunday when he finally returned home to Wasilla, he said.
On Monday morning, Shauna Smith, Donahoo’s girlfriend, posted in a Facebook group asking anyone recreating on the creek to keep an eye out for the missing leg. The prosthetic cost about $10,000, and she figured it was worth letting others know it was missing.
“It just spread like wildfire after I posted it,” Smith said.
Rex Talcott, who owns K&R Kayak Rental, began coordinating search efforts and offered free rentals to anyone willing to join the search. He estimates more than 10 people set out specifically to search for the leg.
Chandra Burbage saw the posts early Monday and sent a screenshot of them to her longtime friend Teresa Moss.
“She said, ‘Do you want to go hunt for a leg?’ and I’m like, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s go find some treasure,’ ” Moss said.
The women, along with friend Keith Street, headed out on paddleboards around 5 p.m. that day, and returned Tuesday to continue their search. They launched into the water right after Taku Lake, thinking the heavy prosthetic likely didn’t make it far.
By the time they were about a mile downstream, Burbage said the eager searchers got a reality check: “We had all kind of talked about how we had kind of given up and we weren’t ever going to find it.”
But as they rounded a bend, Burbage saw a shoe sticking up from the creek. The group cheered as Street pulled the prosthetic leg out of the water.
“It was just super, super cool to find it,” Moss said. “We were so stoked.”
The group called Talcott, who connected them with Smith.
“I got the message — that it was even found, I was like, ‘No freaking way,’ ” Smith said.
Donahoo has been walking the last few days with his “work leg,” a heavier prosthetic designed to hold up while he works as a contracting supervisor. He has three prosthetic legs total, including one for swimming and the other that had been lost in the creek, which he said he uses for running and everyday activities.
Donahoo plans to pick up the leg Saturday night. A local radio station organized for the parties to meet onstage at the Night Ranger concert in Eagle River.
“If I hop up onstage without my leg, they’re gonna give me my leg so I can walk offstage,” Donahoo said.
Street, Moss and Burbage said they’re looking forward to meeting Donahoo and they’re happy they’ll be able to return his prosthetic.
“It’s nice to be able to do something good for somebody and while doing something that we enjoy,” Street said. “It was a win-win for everybody.”
As for Donahoo, he said he feels grateful the leg was found. And losing his prosthetic, just like losing his real leg, isn’t going to stop him from getting out on the water.
“I’ll do it again,” he said. “As soon as it rains again, I’ll be right back out there doing it again. Next time, I’m gonna figure out a tether to tie my leg to my shorts or something — so if it does get swept off, it doesn’t go completely away.”