Not long after he turned 19 in 2004, Alex Vancel joined the U.S. Army ready to serve – to follow orders – to protect his country. But earlier this year, one doctor at a VA facility in Indiana apparently thought the best way to reward Vancel’s service was to ignore and even misdiagnose him. Today, the 29-year-old is in Stage 4 of a rapidly-developing colorectal cancer, treatment for which he had to wait four months to receive.
The problem began in January, Vancel says, when a crucial pain in his tailbone led him to the West Lafayette Outpatient Clinic. Despite multiple requests for examination, beginning with that first visit and subsequent ones, Dr. Min Choi ignored him, he says. “She didn’t look at me,” he told WLFI-18. “She didn’t examine me one time.” Instead, Vancel was given a series of prescriptions, beginning with treatment for hemorrhoids, then fiber laxatives and finally just for intense pain.
That pain continued to worsen, too. He lost 30 pounds in three months. Combined with the undesirable results of his medications, which he says forced him to make 20 rushing trips to the bathroom each day, Vancel couldn’t even comfortably walk, let alone maintain regular work. His wife Amanda, who was also without work until recently, had to care for him — even clean after him.
Only after Amanda confronted her did Dr. Choi refer Vancel to another medical facility in April. A subsequent (and overdue) colonoscopy found a malignant tumor that required immediate chemotherapy and radiation – treatment that should have begun back in January.
Vancel tried to relieve himself of the previous mistreatment with the new and more appropriate treatment he was getting at the new facility in Danville, Indiana. He had to face yet another risk, though, just two weeks later. A blood test revealed a life-threatening infection caused by what he learned was the cause of his intense pain – an abscess in his right buttock. The infection threw his white blood cell count so far off that it almost claimed his life. Vancel was brought to another VA hospital in Indianapolis, where the abscess was drained of over 40 ounces of infectious pus.
Since then, Vancel’s circumstances are at a hiatus. He completed his scheduled chemotherapy and radiation on July 20; he even got “a formal apology from the Assistant Director, Chief of Staff, Chief of Clinics, and the Risk Manager” of the Veterans Administration, Vancel told If You Only News.
He also got some good news that keeps his hopes high; his wife is expecting a child in October.
This will be our first child, and she is going to be the love of our lives. Since the cancer is where it is, I cannot have children anymore, so since we only get one shot at being parents, we are going to give her everything.
Vancel could use a little help with that, though. Remember, he’s been without regular work due to his intense pain and subsequent cancer treatment. His pregnant wife, who’d been caring for him, only re-entered the workforce on July 28. His lack of income, his intense medical treatment, and his upcoming family addition compelled Vancel to create his own Go Fund Me page to help him get through.
Meanwhile, he has about three weeks to wait before he learns what’s next in treatment of his Stage 4 cancer. He’s been keeping his spirits up, though, and with the help of a few celebrity connections. An aspiring writer himself, Vancel made and maintains contact with famed novelist Anne Rice, and even appeared on John Fugelsang’s Tell Me Everything show on XM radio.
He doesn’t even blame the VA overall, just the size of the VA facility.
The advice I give to other Vets is to make sure that you go to a larger facility. In my experience, both Danville and Indianapolis are over an hour away, but it was worth the drive because they provided me with excellent healthcare.
And as for that Dr. Choi, who delayed Vancel’s treatment of his life-threatening condition? “(She) is on leave pending the results of a review,” the VA says.
Wish him (and other veterans) the best.
Featured image provided by Alexander Vancel (modified with VA Health Care logo/public domain)