Teacher working to walk again

Doug Schill was a teacher in Charlotte for years, educating hundreds of children at Pineville Elementary, Irwin Open Elementary, Piedmont Middle and later Charlotte Latin. In June 2006, on his first trip as a retiree, Schill collapsed in South Korea after suffering an aortic aneurysm and fell into a semiconscious state. He lost the use of his legs. At this news, scores of former students donated thousands of dollars to help Schill with his mounting medical costs. Following are excerpts of an interview staff writer Jennifer Rothacker had with Schill, 69, and living in Durham.

Q: Are you able to use your legs?

When I'm in the pool. I've also got braces that help me walk with a walker; that's been a real godsend. I'm in a wheelchair most of the time, but I think it's really improving and I'm very forward looking. I'm doing regular rehab, a lot of aqua stuff.

Q: What is your prognosis?

I'm trying to relearn how to walk. We don't know how deep the spinal injury is. My recent visit with the cardiologist was very positive. The (doctor) told me the CAT Scan and ECHO looked really good and to come back in a year. That made us (he and his wife) feel good.

Q: The Observer initially reported you incurred $130,000 in medical expenses. Was that the total cost?

The $130,000 was just for the air ambulance to get me from Seoul to (the U.S.). None of our insurance was good in Seoul, so we and our kids had to max out our credit cards. The hospital bills for Korea were well over $100,000, and after that the very compassionate hospital forgave all the rest of the expenses.

Q: How much of those expenses were covered? Do you have lingering debt?

We have received, oh my goodness, it's almost impossible to remember. It was just a wonderful outpouring. We received about $130,000.

We have about $1,500 in lingering debt, mostly for medication, which has been expensive. And we have joined the wellness center at Chapel Hill, and that's helped me a lot .

Q: Who contributed?

Mostly relatives, students and acquaintances and friends from church. Kids I taught when they were 13 and are now 30. The school I taught for many years, Duke School, sponsored a benefit.

We got (contributions) from Milwaukee, where two of our kids live, and from high school friends, (wife) Judy's high school friends, (son) Mike's high school friends. In fact, all our kids' friends. Judy's sorority. Neighbors here, long-time friends in Charlotte. It was just really bizarre. It really was, it was just great.

Q: Any reconnections that surprised you?

Oh yeah, old flames. That was really amazing. We've been out of high school for 50 years.

Q: What was it about your teaching style that affected others so deeply?

It's really a feeling of what folks need to know, their different styles of learning. I did a lot of questioning over the years.

Q: Do you miss teaching?

Oh my goodness, yes.

Q: Are you involved in education at all?

Not now. We really need to spend a lot of time getting organized at home, how we can best adapt to this.

Q: How are you adapting?

My wife has had to assume so much of the stuff I have always (done) … like chores around the house and in the yard. But it presents new challenges that we didn't know we could face. Life just goes on, and you have to have a real positive attitude.

Jennifer Rothacker