On this Valentine’s Day, as Frank Schultz tells his wife, Leki, how much he loves her, he says he’ll also remember how much he loves Dr. Tim Tollestrup.
The reason is simple. Without the work of the Henderson surgeon, Frank’s sure he would have committed a mercy killing.
The former Army sergeant who had no problem standing up to the Taliban in Afghanistan or al-Qaida in Iraq couldn’t stand the way he reacted to the pain that repeatedly ripped through his leg and left him gasping for breath.
“I was a grumpy sucker to my wife and kids, ” Schultz, 35, said recently as he sat in his house not far from Arizona Charlie’s Decatur. “And here my wife was doing everything for me. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself because my leg wouldn’t hold me up. She deserved better.”
Schultz’s Humvee was blown up by the Taliban in 2006. He suffered injuries to his hip area, and after the original surgery subsequent medical care at Veterans Affairs hospitals worsened his condition.
He didn’t celebrate holidays for four years.
By 2013 and until Tollestrup operated on him last year, Schultz said the searing pain always came on the same way.
He felt a stabbing, sharp pain high in the back of his right leg, And when prescribed painkillers put him into a kind of stupor — they didn’t really kill the pain — he wondered if someone had just slit his thigh with a hunting knife.
Then came the burning sensation in the rest of his leg, as though his limb and foot caught on fire from the inside.
“I was spending my time in the bedroom,” Schultz said. “My wife would give me medicine every four hours. And I was always irritable.”
Leki last year came across the website of Tollestrup, a peripheral nerve surgeon who can eliminate chronic pain through peripheral nerve decompression — where he creates space for nerves to function properly — or by segmental denervation, which involves cutting a nerve to interrupt the pain response.
“I told Leki either this worked or I was going to commit suicide,” Schultz said.
Though Tollestrup did three procedures on him last year, Schultz said he knew after waking up from the first one that he could enjoy life again.
The pain was largely gone after Tollestrup removed a small muscle in the buttocks compressing the sciatic nerve.
Two other procedures relieved pressure on the same nerve in the calf and on top of the foot.
Though Schultz is now being tested by the VA for nodules growing in his lungs — some experts say soldiers who served near fire pits burning chemicals in Iraq are having this problem — he is relentlessly upbeat now that he’s out of pain.
“I love Dr. Tollestrup … he ended my pain so I can be loving to my wife and kids like I want to on Valentine’s and every other day, so I can do my trucking work again.”