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Wauconda officer back on patrol after amputation
By Phil Collins | Daily Herald Staff

Wauconda police officer Eric Schultz is back on patrol duty after losing a foot to cancer a year ago.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Wauconda police officer Eric Schultz, 24, has been fitted with a prosthetic foot and his cancer is in remission.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/15/2009 12:01 AM

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It seemed Eric Schultz's dream of becoming a police officer was in doubt. After all, how many cops have one foot?

Not long after starting his job at the Wauconda Police Department, the 24-year-old Schultz, of Wauconda, was told he had cancer and faced a potentially career-ending, life-altering decision - his right foot would have to be amputated or it would become deformed and prohibit him from continuing police work.

Fast-forward one year to find Schultz had the amputation, his cancer is in remission and he is back on patrol with a prosthetic foot.

About the only thing that worries him these days is his shoes. He's waiting to receive a second prosthetic for work, so he can wear boots - the norm for patrol - instead of the gym shoes he uses now.

"People on the street have no idea (about the prosthetic foot)," Schultz said. "Occasionally I'll get a comment like 'What's with the shoes?'"

The first inkling something was wrong came after Schultz sprained his ankle in May 2007. When the pain persisted, he got an MRI that led to the discovery of osteosarcoma - the most common type of bone cancer, typically found in adolescents and young adults, according to the National Cancer Institute.

He began chemotherapy treatments in November 2007 at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Schultz said he would sometimes become so sick from the treatments, he'd have to quickly return to the hospital.

"Hell is not even a word to describe it," he said.

Schultz, who had been with the police department for about a year, had to take eight months off work - the duration of chemotherapy.

"You could tell that he was concerned that he only had so much benefit time that he could be away," Deputy Chief Patrick Yost said.

Co-workers went to the chief and offered to donate their time off to help cover the time Schultz would need to be away.

"It worked out wonderfully," Yost said.

Schultz also received a lot of support from his parents and girlfriend, who is a nurse. He admitted to not being the easiest patient, in part, because of difficulty dealing with the role reversal of having someone tell him what to.

Word that amputation may be necessary was met with surprise and some anger.

"They didn't exactly tell me that it was going to be that extreme," Schultz said.

He returned to work two weeks after finishing chemotherapy in July, and was put on light duty at first to ease his transition.

He hated the desk job, but needed time to relearn everything from walking and jogging to running. The first prosthetic foot he tried made walking painful, but quickly switched to a different model that is more comfortable.

Schultz can walk, run and drive like he used to, although his prosthetic does not allow for any ankle movement.

Before Schultz returned to full duty, Yost said, the department put him through field training so everyone could be sure he was ready to come back. Schultz passed without a problem.

"It doesn't really feel like I left," he said. "The guys don't treat me any differently."

In addition to returning to duty, Schultz carries the title of cancer survivor and is preparing to attend this year's St. Baldrick's head-shaving fundraiser Feb. 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Wauconda High School, 555 N. Main St. He participated in last year's event, which supports cancer research, eight days after his surgery.

"It was great for the cause," Schultz said. "I'm more excited about it this year. Last year, I was fresh off the surgery and was tired ... Now that I'm able to walk and back in good health, it should be more fun for myself."