A man who lost his leg after a sports injury was dealt a second blow when thieves stole his prosthetic limb from a locker as he swam with friends.
West Aucklander Tino Ierome, 24, initially thought his mates were playing a prank on him but was "lost for words" when he realised his prosthesis had been pinched.
He went swimming with friends at the Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa Leisure Centre in Mangere last Monday. He left the prosthetic limb in a cubby hole near the pool. The leg, worth about $6000, is distinctive and has a Samoan crest on the front.
"I left it there because I didn't think that someone would ever take a leg," he said yesterday.
"It was out in the open; it was just gone. At first I thought it was a prank and I saw the funny side of it, but then my mates convinced me that they didn't do it."
Mr Ierome had his leg amputated last year. He was tackled at rugby league practice and broke his tibia and fibula (calf bone). An infection developed and doctors told him it was potentially fatal.
"They either had to cut my leg off or leave it there and risk the germs spreading to my main organs and killing me," he said. "It was a massive, massive decision to make. It was unbelievably hard. You just never think something like that would ever happen to you."
Mr Ierome was fitted with a prosthetic leg, which was upgraded to a more modern, lighter and flexible model a few months ago. It was the new leg that was stolen, so he has had to use the old one, which is heavy, stiff and limits his movement.
He said getting the new leg had meant his life had almost returned to normal. "It was a massive adjustment, but it meant that I'm pretty much living a normal life."
Mr Ierome said he had recently started to look for work, which he had to give up following the accident. But even that was harder to do with his older prosthetic.
"I'm just lost for words. I was surprised and angry at the same time - who'd take someone's leg? I was quite shocked that someone would actually do that."
Police urged anyone with information to come forward.
"It's incredible that someone would do it knowing the harm they would be causing," said New Lynn police watchhouse supervisor Warren Strand. "It could have been a prank. I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to steal the leg. I think someone has taken it and concealed it as some sort of joke. I hope that's what happened, anyway."
Can you help?
If you have or find Tino Ierome's leg please deliver it to a police station or the Auckland Limb Centre at 7 Horopito St, Mt Eden. Information about the theft can be given to Warren Strand on (09) 826-2454 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.