PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The widow of a Navy veteran has one question for the Department of Veterans Affairs: what happened?
The V.A diagnosed Arestides (Steve) Cavadias, of Hudson, last year with cancer, but according to his wife Sandy, told the couple treatment could wait.
Steve was exposed to cancer-causing Agent Orange in Vietnam. He also served at camp Lejeune, where he was exposed to toxic water. No one at the V.A. connected the dots. Or if they did, they didn’t inform those most affected.
“Don’t believe the V.A., go get a second opinion,” Ms. Cavadias said.
There is a flag case on the Cavadias’ family room mantle.
It’s for her husband, a 32-year Navy veteran.
“I can never bring him back, but if this will help somebody else to not have to ever go through this,” Ms. Cavadias said through tears.
Last June, Steve spotted blood in his urine. The couple contacted the V.A. clinic in New Port Richey.
“When he went to the doctor, it was, ‘oh, well you have a kidney stone,'” remembered Ms. Cavadias.
The doctor put Steve on antibiotics. The bleeding continued through July.
In August, the V.A. discovered it was kidney cancer.
A doctor told her the kidney needed to come out.
“He says, ‘yes, you have a mass in your kidney, you have two kidneys, you can function on one,'” recalled Ms. Cavadias. “‘We’re just going to take your right kidney out and you’ll be good.'”
She said they urged doctors to move quickly, but claims they were told there was no hurry.
The V.A. never removed the kidney.
In October, more tests determined the cancer had moved into Mr. Cavadias’ lymph nodes. Doctors suggested he undergo chemotherapy.
‘We questioned it again, ‘no let’s take the kidney out and then start chemo,'” explained Ms. Cavadias.
The V.A. never started chemotherapy.
Steve Cavadias joined the Navy when he was 19-years-old.
He served in Vietnam. As a Seabee, he constructed bases in areas sprayed with the toxic defoliant Agent Orange. He also served at Camp Lejeune, where thousands of military members and their families were exposed to cancer-causing contaminated water.
According to Ms. Cavadias, her husband developed diabetes, a disease caused by Agent Orange exposure. Ms. Cavadias showed Target 8 blood test results that reveal her husband’s white blood cell count was elevated more than a year before his cancer diagnosis.
She claims V.A. doctors put him on antibiotics, but did not follow up to look for what was causing any possible infection. The toxic water at Camp Lejeune is tied to kidney cancer. Blood in the urine is a symptom of kidney cancer. Ms. Cavadias said no one at the V.A. connected the dots.
She claims she tried to convince her husband to seek a second opinion from outside doctors.
“He would only go to the V.A. because that’s who he trusted,” she said.
Ms. Cavadias produced records that show the V.A. knew in August of last year that her husband had stage four cancer. It did not share the information with her or her husband.
“If you knew it was stage four and that he was terminal, then tell us. Give us the chance to say our goodbyes, to get his life in order,” she said.
That didn’t happen. The cancer spread to his hips and leg. The V.A., she said, started radiation therapy for pain management. The Cavadias’ didn’t realize it, but Steve’s bones were beginning to break.
In November, he couldn’t get out of bed for his third radiation treatment. Paramedics rushed a paralyzed Steve Cavadias to Bayonet Point hospital in Hudson.
Doctors told Ms. Cavadias his neck had fractured, several rips had broken, he was highly septic and his organs were shutting down. If she wanted to use hospice, she had better hurry, because he wouldn’t last through the weekend.
“We were just at the V.A. five days ago,” she said.
Steve rallied a bit on Thursday November 17th. He regained consciousness and asked his wife what was happening.
“I had to tell him he had broken his neck and that’s why he had the brace on. And the reason he couldn’t move was, now he was quadriplegic. And that his organs were shutting down. And he goes, ‘am I dying?’ So my last words to him was that, ‘yes you are,'” she said through tears. “Which we had no idea.”
Steve Cavadias died later that evening.
Ms. Cavadias contends the V.A. should have been looking for exposure-related illnesses far earlier. She claims that his pension benefits were cut off and her finances are in ruin. Ms. Cavadias filed an 1151 claim against James Haley Hospital, which seeks compensation for improper diagnosis and treatment that led to Steve’s death.
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