SEATTLE — Ex-Navy Petty Officer Eric Powell has received mostly bad news since discovering he had terminal cancer 16 months ago. But thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Powell had a very good day Monday, as the charity known for San Francisco’s Batkid adventure helped Powell achieve his dream of getting any attention at all from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“All I really wanted was to talk to a live person, instead of endless menus and ‘hang up and try again later’ messages,” Powell said. “Well, Make-a-Wish accomplished that, and a whole lot more!” he added, with a gigantic smile.
Powell, 26, of Port Angeles,Wash., was diagnosed in mid-2014 with an aggressive form of thyroid cancer. He worked on nuclear reactors on Navy ships and is believed to have exceeded his Roentgen exposure after participating in the US response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
“We normally only work with children,” said Make-A-Wish spokesman Charlie Herndon. “But Eric’s faith that the country he served so nobly would not ignore or betray him was so childlike in its naivete that we decided we could make an exception.”
Prior to Make-A-Wish, Powell had been seen only once by the VA in the last three years, despite a host of symptoms ranging from a softball sized lump in his neck to lymph nodes around his ears that friends and family describe as “glow-in-the-dark.”
Marie Powell, a former entertainer and his wife of two years, concurred. “Oh, man, they actually got him an appointment to be seen by a VA doctor — a good one. A specialist. Not the alcoholic private practice failure we saw last year,” she said.
According to the Powells, the new doctor was extremely optimistic after reading Powell’s chart. He outlined an aggressive treatment plan that he said had a 97% cure rate, before learning that Powell’s chart hadn’t been updated since the initial diagnosis. Now, with Stage IV cancer, Powell’s treatment options are greatly limited.
“The doc prescribed some way better palliative care,” Mrs. Powell said. “I’m making sure [Eric] fills every prescription and gets all the renewals, too.”
But the great response wasn’t limited just to seeing a doctor or getting a prescription for plenty of opiates, thanks to Make-A-Wish.
“I’ve gotten follow up phone calls from about two dozen phone reps, many conferenced in with reporters” Powell said. “And the day I saw the specialist, pretty much everybody turned out to cheer me. Practically every single VA staff member in the hospital was outside yelling and clapping and celebrating for almost two hours. I'm not sure what they did with the other patients. Plus they gave me a 15% discount in the hospital cafeteria."
“Secretary McDonald even put on his Green Beret costume and came out and made a speech,” Powell added. "They offered me a pedicure for free, too. But I had to say no on account of my toenails all fell out last month."
Powell said that the response made him happy, and proud to be an American.
“If there are that many staff members so willing to take time out with the media all around, and the secretary looking on — for two whole hours, and only then did they take their lunch break — I can’t imagine what my sick brothers and sisters will get when all this attention fades!” Powell said.