“What’s wrong with your legs?”

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Wickliffe’s Jason Conrad (right) suffered for years with varicose veins, which caused pain and embarrassment, and forced him to hide his legs. Now, after treatments from Dr. Sonja Stiller at Center for Advanced Vein Care, he’s enjoying summer again. (Photography: Benjamin Margalit)

By Mimi Vanderhaven

Jason Conrad is a tough guy. The retired Marine hits the gym regularly and steps into the boxing ring as a hobby. But when it came to having his varicose veins treated, he felt anxious. He procrastinated.

For years.

“I had varicose veins even as a child,” Jason says, “but they were high up on the inside of my thigh. No one could see them and it didn’t bother me that much. Then, they started having a waterfall effect on the veins below. Six or seven years ago, they moved down my leg and became painful.”

But Jason simply learned to live with the pain.

“I can handle pain, even chronic pain. You just get used to it and it becomes the new normal. What I couldn’t handle was the embarrassment,” he says.

Jason had always loved summer, including being outdoors and wearing shorts and sandals. But as his varicose veins worsened, he became self-conscious.

Jason Conrad with his beloved cockapoo Kingslee. Summer 2019 has been the first time in many years the retired Marine and current Veteran Service Officer has felt confident wearing shorts and sandals.

“People would stare at my legs and my friends and family would sask, ‘Dude, what’s wrong with your legs?’ So I started wearing long pants even in summer, even at the gym.”

But Jason still wouldn’t seek treatment.

“Dr. Stiller is a Rare Doctor...”
In spite of his toughness, Jason has a soft side. He’s a Veteran Service Officer who helps veterans with everything from finances to health care, and he’s also a job coach who works with the developmentally disabled. “I help people with issues like Down syndrome find jobs, then I help train them,” he says. “It’s rewarding work.”

And he has a cockapoo named “Kingslee.”

“When people ask me the breed of my dog and I say ‘cockapoo,’ I’m giving up a little bit of my man card, but that’s okay. I love that dog,” he smiles

Jason says he avoided treatment for his varicose veins partly because he thought it was going to be expensive, and partly because of overwhelming anxiety.

“I don’t mind telling you that I was physically abused as a kid,” he says. “My birth parents did some horrible things, but, thankfully, I was removed from them at age seven and adopted by a loving family. But the abuse left its mark. Again, I can take pain, but not when it comes from someone else. The idea of lying there defenseless while a doctor might cause me pain is something I just could not do, until I met Dr. Stiller.”

Sonja Stiller, M.D., is the founder of Mentor’s Center for Advanced Vein Care, and as a former emergency room physician, she’s seen her share of trauma. She and her staff treated Jason—and helped him relax.

“Dr. Stiller is a rare doctor with an amazing bedside manner,” Jason says. “I was very nervous going in for that first treatment, but she and her staff helped me so much. She was very calming, very intelligent. She explained everything to me. After just one treatment, I wasn’t nervous at all. When lying down on my back like that, I usually get a strong fight or flight sensation and get severe anxiety, but she took all that stress away.

“My veins were long and needed several treatments, but I was able to keep going back. Dr. Stiller is so accomplished. She has such steady hands and the entire staff is so personable. The anxiety was gone. I couldn’t believe it.”

A Happy Summer
This summer has been the first in many years when Jason could be himself.

“Now, my life is so much happier,” he says.

For years, Jason Conrad resisted varicose vein treatments due to severe anxiety. Today, after finding success at Mentor’s Center for Advanced Vein Care, he is no longer self-conscious about showing his legs in public, including at the gym, in the boxing ring, and walking his dog Kingslee.

“Instead of dreading summer, I looked forward to it this year. I could finally wear shorts and sandals, and I didn’t have to worry about people asking, ‘What’s wrong with your legs?’ or the chronic pain. I’m happier and more confident. I go to the gym more. There are good-looking people there and I’m not self-conscious anymore. My workouts are better. This entire process has been life-changing for me.”

High-Quality Care
According to Dr. Stiller, who could not speak directly about Jason’s case because of HIPPA regulations, it’s not unusual for patients to be anxious about medical procedures, even something as simple as giving a blood sample.

“No matter how brave or tough we may be in other aspects of our lives, some of us just don’t like needles,” she says.

Unfortunately, as in Jason’s case, anxiety about health care can lead people to delay or avoid taking care of their own health.

“That’s why we work with every new patient to help them stay as informed and as relaxed as possible,” Dr. Stiller adds. “Getting to know our patients and making sure they know and understand their health issue and the treatment options is essential to providing high-quality care.”

And then there are the persistent myths about “stripping surgery.”

“As venous health professionals—specializing in treating varicose veins—we are sensitive to the fact that many people recall painful stripping surgery from the past, and that makes them anxious,” Dr. Stiller explains.

“But those days are gone. Today, we employ leading-edge, high-tech procedures that are relatively pain-free, including ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy, thermal ablation, lasers, radio frequency, etc. In fact, after treatment, many of our patients say, “If I would have known it was going to be this easy, I would have come in years ago.”

If you have symptoms of varicose veins, including the presence of bulging veins, but are anxious about treatments, you may call Center for Advanced Vein Care for a free screening to determine whether you should schedule a consultation. Varicose veins often have visible symptoms, but not always. You may have an issue if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • chronic leg pain
  • fatigue
  • itching
  • burning
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • leg cramps or swelling

Dr. Sonja Stiller is a diplomat of both the American Board of Emergency Medicine and the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine. She is the founder of the Center for Advanced Vein Care, a Tier 1 provider with Lake Health Hospital System, located at 7200 Mentor Avenue, in Mentor. For an appointment, call 440-710-1140. More information can be found at YourHealthyVeins.com.