The Real Deal New York

Douglas Durst opens up about elective amputation

Durst Organization chair underwent procedure in July to remove lower part of right leg
March 14, 2016 06:28PM


Douglas Durst (credit: Adam Pincus)

After spending much of the previous four decades in pain – a wood-fired heater had exploded and tore into his calf in 1972, while he was living in Newfoundland and Labrador with his young family – Durst Organization chair Douglas Durst opted for a drastic measure last summer to alleviate the discomfort in his right leg: elective amputation.

Durst, 71, opened up this week about the procedure he underwent last July, in which a surgeon removed the lower portion of his leg. The real estate magnate had injured the extremity 43 years prior, while attempting to fix up the wood-fired heater to provide heat and hot water to the old home that he, his wife and two kids had moved into in Canada.

“Unfortunately, my safety valve to let the steam out didn’t work,” Durst told Politico. “And it blew up.”

While Durst’s wife and children were unharmed, a piece of the cast-iron stove had torn into his calf and sliced an artery. He returned to New York, where he spent three months in Mount Sinai Hospital, two years in physical therapy and decades of treatments for painful complications from the injury.

By last year, Durst said he “was feeling really, really miserable, and so I decided that I just had to get rid of the leg.”

The developer was encouraged by technological advances in prosthetics, like the carbon fiber one that now fits where his lower right leg used to be. In the aftermath of the amputation, he spent weeks in a wheelchair. It boded well for him when meeting with the representatives from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, to resolve a lawsuit filed in 2014 over disabilities access at Durst’s buildings.

He had recently moved to one of the buildings in question, the Helena in Hell’s Kitchen, because his Manhattan townhouse couldn’t accommodate his wheelchair.

“I came in in my wheelchair and introduced myself as a handicapped tenant of the Helena,” Durst said. “After that, we quickly got to a resolution of the issues.” [Politico]Rey Mashayekhi