St. Petersburg, Fla. (WFLA) – Veteran Mike Henry of St. Petersburg begged the United States Department of Veterans Affairs for help for months.
In June, Mike’s shoulder began swelling for no apparent reason, and the pain was severe. The swelling spread to Mike’s neck and face.
It affects his vision and breathing. He also suffers stomach, back and cervical pain.
“It actually feels like somebody has a knife, a steak knife in here (pointing to his temple) and they’re just slowly twisting it,” Mike said.
Muscles in Mike’s face go into spasm making it difficult to speak. His neck swells up to twice it’s normal size.
“That’s very dangerous, I mean your throat can close up, asphyxia,” Shelly Henry, Mike’s wife, stated.
Mike served as an Air National Guard flight medic. He was deployed to Iraq for the Desert Storm campaign and again for Desert Shield.
He sought medical treatment at the C. W. Bill Young VA Medical Center at Bay Pines in Pinellas County.
Mike saw several doctors during multiple trips to the emergency room, as well as during scheduled appointments.
He remembered his first exam by a VA neurologist was a waste of time.
The doctor, he says, spent about 6 minutes with him.
“What the doctor charted was there was nothing wrong with me,” Mike recalled.
Things went downhill from there.
“The VA sucks, they’re terrible,” Shelly Henry said.
“I called the White House hotline,” Mike added.
Mike Henry met with a series of VA doctors. No one had answers had answers to what was causing his pain.
The episodes became more frequent, more painful. He sent email after email to the VA.
“The titles were “Begging for Help,” Mike explained. “I sent 61 emails.”
In September one VA neurologist wrote, “It seems like your pain is more complex than we can handle at this facility.”
Hospitalized in late September for six days, the situation began spinning out of control.
According to an email to the Bay Pines Chief of Staff, from Shelly Henry, one VA doctor visited Mike in his hospital room and delivered a message.
“You’re a drug seeker and you’re a faker,” Mike said he was told. “Then he grabs me right here, my neck was swollen and he’s shaking me around. And then I said what are you doing? Are you crazy? He goes, ‘Oh, you’re talking normal now, you’re just a faker I told you that’s what you were.'”
“You wouldn’t even treat your dog like that,” Shelly said.
Bay Pines director Paul Russo chose not to be interviewed for this story. Instead he issued a statement.
“The allegation was investigated, and could not be substantiated,” it said.
What sort of investigation was conducted?
Mike’s sister, Karen Oldfeild, was present when the VA doctor allegedly accused Mike of faking his illness. Oldfeild contends no one from the VA contacted her.
Russo added, “During Mr. Henry’s recent hospital admission, he exhibited violent and threatening behavior that required a Behavior Emergency Response Team to respond and address the situation.”
Karen Oldfeild argues that she asked the VA doctor, who was agitating her brother, to leave the room. When he refused, Oldfeild states she ran out of the room screaming for help.
Mike Henry agrees that he became angry when, he says, the doctor grabbed him by the neck, and Mike made a beeline for the elevator. The doctor, he claims, chased him down the hallway.
Days later, yet another VA doctor reviewed Mike’s chart. He wrote, “This patient has no active neurological disease to require further attention from our neurology service.”
“You have documentation after documentation of this man’s problems and I cannot believe that you can’t recognize that he’s got a neurological problem,” Shelly said angrily. “You’re a neurologist, are you kidding me?”
Nursing notes show that on October 1 the attending VA physician said, “We’ve tried everything. Now we’re going to try nothing and see how bad it gets.”
“You’re going to let let him lay there and suffer like that? And not doing anything about it?” Shelly asked.
“They’re just want me to hurt so bad that I either die or leave. I left,” Mike explained.
He and Shelly left for Tampa General Hospital, where within a half hour, doctors diagnosed him with a neurological disorder in which nerve cells within the brain trigger uncontrollable muscle contractions.
“You don’t have any neurological problem but then Tampa General, within what half an hour, tells you, you have neurological problems. What is wrong with this picture? Shelly asked.
What’s wrong with this picture? From a medical standpoint, failure to treat, failure to diagnose, failure to implement a care plan.
According to Bay Pines director Paul Russo’s statement, “We take all concerns raised by our patients seriously….The Bay Pines V.A Health Care System continues to support and provide medical and mental health services to Mr. Henry; in fact, he has a follow up appointment November 14, 2018.”