F.O.E. plans concert/dinner Nov. 17 to benefit Westside couple facing massive medical bills

       Everyone knows that life is full of surprises and not all are pleasant. But there was no way that Mike Schultz could have foreseen the barrage of medical onslaughts that have assailed him since April.

Shirley and Mike Schultz in the living room of their Westside home.
Westside Pioneer photo

       “Highlights” have included gall bladder removal, kidney failure, punctured colon, kidney dialysis, pancreas infection, cellulitis, colostomy, tangled intestines, ileostomy and the oh-by-the-way discovery that at some point he'd contracted hepatitis (which was adding to the complications).
       The 55-year-old lifetime Westsider has had so many stomach-area surgeries that when asked to verify the number, he and Shirley had to think back and add them up (13).
       On the plus side, Mike has finally started recovering in the past month. But the minus side is huge. It will be at least a year before he can work again, and because he was between jobs (and thus without insurance) when the health tsunami hit, the amount they owe is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. “I don't know what's going to happen,” Shirley said. “We have bills everywhere.”
       Hearing about the Schultzes' plight, the Westside-based Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E.) #143 organized a benefit for them Saturday, Nov. 17 from 2 to 8 p.m. at the F.O.E. hall, 1050 S. 21st St. Including dinner, live music and raffles, the event will cost $10 a person.
       Scheduled to play are the Nocturnal Tomatoes, the Jerry Roskin Band and the Upside Band. Confirmation is in progress for two other bands and a karaoke performer, Rebecca Armenta of F.O.E. said this week.
       The dinner - different types of cooked pasta and sauces, followed by dessert - will be served at 6 p.m., led by Daniel Way, head chef from Zio's Italian Kitchen, with help from culinary students from Pikes Peak Community College, an F.O.E. flyer states.
       In an interview, Mike and Shirley expressed gratitude for the Eagles' help, but admitted that all that's happened has left them in a state of near-disbelief.
       For the better part of his life, Mike was reasonably healthy, although he did have an existing thyroid condition. A new danger sign cropped up in October of 2011, when a case of pneumonia, required him to temporarily go on oxygen (he'd been a smoker - at least until April). But such issues did not dissuade him from quitting his 12-year building engineer job in November 2011, based on what he described as increasingly stressful working conditions.
       Still out of work last spring, Mike found to his dismay that his digestive system was starting to fail him. It got to the point where he could hardly eat, and when they finally decided to go to the hospital in April, “I could barely get him to the car,” Shirley said.

Hooked up to a variety of medical devices, Mike Schultz is shown between surgeries during one of his hospital stays. The photo was shot by his wife Shirley, who lived in the hospital room with him for four months.
Courtesy of Shirley Schultz

       So began a five-month saga of pain and uncertainty. Doctors removed his gall bladder and thought they'd fixed a problem with what Shirley described as “tangled intestines,” but Mike wasn't getting better. A later check found a punctured colon, a potentially fatal condition in which the blood is essentially being poisoned.
       A bewildered Mike and Shirley were then told that he would have to be put into an induced coma. Initially this was to be just for a few days, but it took eight surgeries over the course of a month before doctors finally thought they'd eliminated the poison.
       By this time, Shirley, concerned for his life, had moved into his room, sleeping in a “not very comfortable” recliner near the bed. Mike's condition was “horrendous,” she said. “He swelled up like a balloon. He had IV's in both arms, a line in the neck, a catheter, all this stuff hooked up to him.”
       She eventually wound up missing four months of work - a pay gap that still haunts her bankbook, along with a barrage of medical bills that would have already been daunting. “I've about maxed out my credit card,” she said. “I'm scared now.”
       Medicaid is one possibility, but it could mean the agency taking the home. And that home is where Mike was raised; it was left to him by his parents. She's also tried Social Security, but was denied because she has an IRA. An application for disability is still awaiting a reply. About the only financial ray of sunshine has been getting onto indigent health care. That “has helped a lot,” she said.
       But there's more to the story than money. Shirley and Mike have had a rocky marriage. After their wedding in 1996, they divorced in '98, remarried in '03, then broke up again in '09. They were separated when the ordeal started. But with Mike on his own and mostly helpless in the hospital, Shirley came back. She even took a leave for the first time in her 12 years at the Colorado College cafeteria - one that eventually lasted four months. “I just wanted to make sure that nothing happened to him,” she said, simply.
       Little did the couple know that the problems were far from over. After being released from the hospital in early June, Mike did not improve. At first the doctors dismissed it as malnutrition, but then they found the pancreas and cellulitis issues, leading to an infusion of constant antibiotics during another two-week hospital stay. “I felt like I got shot,” Mike said.
       The liver failure occurred in August, requiring an ambulance to the hospital and another coma - this time not induced. “I thought he was a goner,” Shirley said.
       Mike regained consciousness after four days, but felt terrible. The doctors decided new surgery was needed, this time to remove “intestinal blockage.” It didn't happen right away. Ironically, as Shirley pointed out, “he couldn't have the surgery because he wasn't well enough.”
       The outcome of going under the knife again wasn't quite textbook. Mike lost a lot of blood, went into shock and had to be transferred to the intensive care unit. A follow-up surgery removed scar tissue.
       At last, around the start of October, with the help of a temporary feeding tube, a favorable change occurred: “I was laying in bed, actually feeling hungry,” Mike recalled.
       He was released from the hospital Oct. 6. Another surgery still awaits, to take down his ileostomy (he'd endured a colestemy before that) but in the past few weeks he's been able to walk short distances - even one day to go out and repark their car on West Cucharras Street, which Shirley enjoyed acting angry about.
       All too often, the couple are made aware of the costs they're facing. They still don't have an exact total, but the April surgeries alone came to $20,000, Shirley was told. Another time they went to fill a doctor's prescription for medication to aid Mike's appetite. When they realized the cost would be over $1,000, they scrapped that plan. He seems to be OK without it.
       For Mike's part, he has a two-word summation of what he's been through: “It sucks.”
       Despite it all, he can't deny a silver lining here and there. For one thing, he's lost weight. He used to be heavy, at about 220 pounds. After his medical nightmare, he's at 150. “It's a super diet plan,” Mike said with a wry grin.
       And then there's the part about being back with Shir-ley, returning the squeeze of her hand during hospital hard times and feeling grateful she's there. Overall, as close as he's come to death - and he believes he's seen the “other side” - his experience has been one that “makes you more aware of life itself.”

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