Feature story in The Winnetka Current
April 15, 2015
On March 21, ABC aired “In An Instant,” a two-hour program that told the story of a woman who 11 years ago was beaten beyond recognition by her ex-husband, kidnapped, then left to die in a garbage bin locked in sub-freezing temperatures inside a Wheeling storage facility.
Amazingly, Teri Jendusa-Nicolai survived the 26-hour ordeal and underwent a dramatic recovery, in major part due to the efforts of Dr. Matthew Jimenez, a Winnetka resident and one of the doctors who treated her.
Dr. Jimenez, an orthopedic surgeon and partner with the Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, gathered with his wife Leah and their 21-year-old daughter to watch the show in its entirety. Due to the intensely graphic nature of most of the content, their 9-year-old triplets were allowed to watch only those portions of the program in their which father was interviewed.
Jimenez sat down with The Winnetka Current to talk about the crime and Teri’s remarkable recovery.
Teri, of Wind Lake, Wis., was duct-taped and hit at least 15 times with a baseball bat on the morning of Jan. 31, 2004 when she went to pick up her two daughters, ages 4 and 6, at the home of their father, whom she had divorced three years earlier.
“When you saw Teri, you couldn’t recognize her as a human,” Jimenez said. “Her eyes, her nose, her mouth — it was this blob of horror. As a trauma surgeon for 20 years at Lutheran General Hospital, one of the busiest trauma centers in one of the biggest towns in North America, I’ve seen it all, and this was one of the worst.”
In addition to a crushed skull and numerous broken bones, she was suffering from severe frostbite and her body temperature had dropped to a life-threatening 74 degrees. Doctors at one point thought she had only an hour left to live.
“When she came in, her feet were purple blackish,” Jimenez said, which meant she was at serious risk of life-threatening infection.
Doctors could have amputated her feet midway, which would have healed more quickly and let Teri go home sooner, Jimenez said. But it would have made walking much more difficult than it already was going to be. So, doctors and Teri decided to save as much length of the feet as possible.
“Ultimately, Teri lost all of her toes, which I know sounds terrible, and is a significant loss,” Jimenez said, “but in her scenario a great victory because when she first came in it looked like a lot more of the tissue would be lost.”
“Teri never gave up,” said Jimenez, who has stayed in contact with Teri for the past 11 years and still sees her on a regular basis as a patient.
“She said ‘I knew I was going to die and the only reason I really stuck around was for my kids,’” he said. “She was thinking what kind of parent would he be, what would he do to those kids.”
Throughout a months-long recovery process, which included facial reconstruction and scalp surgery, “Teri had this amazing attitude.”
“She never felt sorry for herself. She never said ‘Why is this happening to me?’ She would always say, ‘How are my kids? I am so lucky to be alive.’ She thanked the doctors and nurses. She lived in gratitude.”
Larsen did not completely duct-tape over Teri’s mouth, which left her room to breath.
Further, she played possum when he was beating her with the bat.
“She would say to me on rounds, ‘I would just hold my breath and play dead, hoping he would stop hitting me,” Jimenez said.
After he had stuffed her in the barrel, she was able to free a hand, reach her cellphone and call 911, which ultimately led police to the storage locker he had rented.
Teri now devotes her time to speaking on college campuses and to women’s groups about domestic violence. Her daughters were found with a babysitter and were unharmed. She is now remarried and has a son with her new husband.
David Larsen, her ex-husband, is serving a life prison sentence.
In addition to his work as an orthopedic surgeon, Jimenez, 53, serves on numerous boards and foundations. Among them is the Foundation for Education in Muscular Skeletal Research, which seeks to educate Americans on ways how to prevent osteoporosis.