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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Pulls Nail from Vietnam Veteran’s Coffin

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Houston VA Pulls Nail from Vietnam Veteran’s Coffin

“Traditionally when a patient undergoes liver surgery, he is still in pain many weeks later and very uncomfortable,” said Daniel Anaya, M.D, a surgical oncologist and the Liver Tumor Program director with Army Veteran Jackie Gildon. “After just a few days, Mr. Gildon was not only at home and back to normal activities; but more importantly, cancer-free and pain-free.” PHOTO: Quentin Melson, Public Affairs Specialist (TCF Intern)

By PHOTO: Quentin Melson, Public Affairs Specialist (TCF Intern)
Thursday, November 24, 2011

Recently, cancer experts at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) successfully treated a patient’s liver cancer using a medically advanced, fully laparoscopic, anatomic liver resection technique. Just days later, the Veteran left the hospital cancer-free with a new outlook on life.

A few months ago, Army Viet Nam War Veteran Jackie Gildon, 61, found himself in dire straits. He had survived triple bypass surgery, back surgery, and a recent stroke. Because of his health problems, his diagnosis of liver cancer looked as if it might be the final nail in the coffin.

“No doubt about it - I was scared,” said Gildon.  “The doctors at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center were hesitant to operate on me because of my pre-existing conditions.”

For Gildon, other options of treating cancer were out of the question. His wife recounts what happen after the diagnosis.
“After he was told that a transplant surgery would not be possible, he told the doctors he did not want chemo or radiation,” said Laquetta, Gildon’s wife for 39 and half years. “His position was if you can’t get to it, then just leave it alone.”

Faced with limited options, the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center referred Gildon to Daniel Anaya, M.D, a surgical oncologist and the Liver Tumor Program director at the MEDVAMC.

“Mr. Gildon had several medical conditions which precluded him from undergoing surgery at a medical facility that did not offer anything but the highest level of care and a distinctively experienced cancer care team,” said Anaya.

When Gildon arrived at MEDVAMC, Anaya and other staff at the MEDVAMC Cancer Center ran various tests to determine what type of treatment would work best. After an intensive work-up, it was determined Gildon would be good candidate for a relatively new type of minimally invasive surgery.

“With a fully laparoscopic anatomic liver resection, only the cancerous portions of the liver are cut out,” said Anaya. “Surgeons reach the liver by making small incisions into the abdomen and insert a tiny camera to guide the surgical instruments.”

Unlike traditional abdomen surgeries, a large incision is not needed and recovery time is quite rapid. Additionally, the stress placed on the body is minimized; thus, making surgery a possible treatment when it would be otherwise considered too risky.

“Traditionally when a patient undergoes liver surgery, he is still in pain many weeks later and very uncomfortable,” said Anaya. “After just a few days, Mr. Gildon was not only at home and back to normal activities; but more importantly, cancer-free and pain-free.”

A Veteran of not only multiple military conflicts but multiple medical procedures as well, Gildon knew that recovery time after surgery could be difficult. However, due to the talent and experience of Anaya and his team, the recovery time of Gildon’s most recent surgery was not difficult at all.

“Jackie had surgery on October 6 and was back home in Oklahoma on October 12,” said Laquetta. “In my opinion, Dr. Anaya and the doctors and nurses at the Houston VA saved his live. I am so happy that God gave them the skill and talent to perform that operation. I am also thankful to them for taking a risk when nobody else would.”

This surgery represents another step in MEDVAMC’s never ending struggle to find better and easier ways to treat cancer – all with the individual patient in mind.

“We are proud the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center has some of the best doctors and nurses in the country and offers the latest, minimally invasive alternatives for our Veterans,” said David H. Berger, M.D., M.H.C.M., Operative Care Line executive at the MEDVAMC and also a professor of Surgery at BCM.


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Awarded re-designation for Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Services in 2008, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center serves as the primary health care provider for more than 130,000 veterans in southeast Texas. Veterans from around the country are referred to the MEDVAMC for specialized diagnostic care, radiation therapy, surgery, and medical treatment including cardiovascular surgery, gastrointestinal endoscopy, nuclear medicine, ophthalmology, and treatment of spinal cord injury and diseases. The MEDVAMC is home to a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic; Network Polytrauma Center; an award-winning Cardiac and General Surgery Program; Liver Transplant Center; VA Epilepsy and Cancer Centers of Excellence; VA Substance Abuse Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative; Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence; VA Rehabilitation Research of Excellence focusing on mild to moderate traumatic brain injury; Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center; and one of the VA’s six Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers. Including the outpatient clinics in Beaumont, Conroe, Galveston, Houston, Lufkin, Richmond, and Texas City, MEDVAMC outpatient clinics logged almost 1.3 million outpatient visits in fiscal year 2011. For the latest news releases and information about the MEDVAMC, visit
 www.houston.va.gov.