SUNBURY — Misdiagnoses, frequent delays in treatment, incompetence, and lack of communication between patient and doctors at three Veterans Administration hospitals in three states, almost led to the death of Sunbury resident Jeff Anselmo, 63, a Vietnam veteran with a heart condition, family members said.
And now his daughter Mikki Anselmo, 33, herself an Air National Guard and Army veteran, who lived through eight months of watching her father suffer, is determined to go public with her story in the hopes that "the horrible health care her father endured never happens again to another veteran."
She is determined, with the help of U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, U.S. Representatives Tom Marino, R-10, Cogan Station, Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, and Pennsylvania Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver, R-108, Sunbury, to testify before Congress on the problems at the V.A. that nearly killed her Dad.
Anselmo was living in retirement in Winter Haven, Fla. last November when he began to feel ill.
"He went to the closest V.A. hospital, in Tampa, where the initial diagnosis was of a blood clot," she said. "We now know it was an infection, which, had they dealt with it then and there, we wouldn't have had issues. That, more than anything is why we are upset."
What followed was a nightmare, Mikki said, that only ended when she pulled her father out of a New York V.A. hospital and drove him to Geisinger Medical Center, in Danville. Within weeks he was diagnosed correctly and is now rapidly improving.
"But the past year, what our family went through was just awful," she said. "And people need to know how some of our veterans are being treated in these facilities."
Jeff had been to his primary care doctor at the V.A. many times, but his hemoglobin was dropping fast, to the point where he felt like passing out. After frequent complaints he said, his doctor told him to go home, "You're fine."
"This was the first time in my entire life that I was afraid for my Dad," Mikki said."
It wasn't to be the last.
What doctors didn't know was that Jeff's kidney's were failing, his condition was getting worse, and when he finally called Mikki from his home in Florida, she could hear fear in his voice.
"The big issue in Tampa was communication," Mikki said. "The right hand wasn't talking to the left hand. The cardiologist, who was a very competent physician, and gastroenteroligst were sending notes to each other, but not talking to each other."
The doctors weren't doing anything and Jeff's health continued to fail. So she picked him up in Florida and brought him to Pennsylvania and the Wilkes-Barre V.A., where things got worse.
"The doctors asked us why we brought my Dad from Florida to Wilkes Barre," she said. "They basically mocked me. I said he was alone down there and his family was here. Wilkes-Barre doctors thought his condition 'was no big deal.' So they decided to stabalize him and re-do all the tests that had been done in Tampa. They were too lazy to call Tampa and have the results of those same tests faxed over."
"I was getting worse," Jeff said. "I was scared to death."
"I was watching my Dad die, right before my eyes," added Mikki. "I decided to get in someone's face. My brother, Eric, and myself had it. They were going to discharge him with a heart valve that required open heart surgery. That was unacceptable."
It was at this point that Mikki decided she was going to fight for better health care for everybody.
Meanwhile, he was transferred to the New York City V.A. hospital, where they for the third time, ran the same tests on his heart.
"He was wasting away," Mikki said. "He wasn't eating. He looked like a concentration camp victim. My Dad had withered away to 112 pounds."
After a heart procedure while recovering in New York, Jeff felt good for a few days, and then progressively felt worse.
"I raised so much hell with them, they literally threw me out, discharged me," he recalled.
"I never felt so helpless in my life as when he called me from New York, begging me to bring him home," she said. "I cried. And I'm not the kind of person who cries. But I did this time.
At home in Sunbury for a day, a visiting nurse told him to go directly to Geisinger, where within days he was properly diagnosed and treated. At the moment, the treatment is dealing with the infection, but the prognosis is good.
Now Mikki said, they will likely have to fight the V.A. for the cost of going to Geisinger instead of back to Wilkes-Barre.
"We're waiting for the bills to come in before the fight over pays it begins," Mikki said.
In her testimony before Congress, Mikki would like to point out the problems that led to all of their problems.
"Communications, even within the V.A. is awful," she said. "And it is killing people. My father's case was complex, he has a heart condition, he had an infection. There should have been collaboration, but there wasn't. Communication between hospitals was nonexistant. I do not think my Dad's primary care doctor in Tampa was competent and I told them so."
Another issue was communication with the family. "I begged to be involved in my Dad's healthcare," she said. "It was impossible to talk with the attending physician. Mostly dealt with residents, who cared a lot, but what did they know?"
Mikki, who served as a medic in the Army, said there were cleanliness issues in the New York V.A. hospital."It was disgusting," she said.
She does, however, have nothing but praise for Geisinger, "which saved my father's life," Mikki said.