Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
Houston VA Staff Saves Ex-Army Ranger
As Hurricane Harvey barreled down on the city of Houston, Matt Meloni, a 38-year-old ex-army ranger who was visiting from Oklahoma for a procedure in the Texas Medical Center, hunkered down at his extended stay hotel, approximately 2 miles from the Houston VA.
“I recently found out I popped positive for prostate cancer,” said Meloni. “I flew to Houston to get treatment and undergo surgery, I was scheduled for surgery on the 28th, but then the hurricane hit.”
Having not anticipated how long he’d be confined to the hotel, Matt ventured to the closest grocery store for food and supplies.
“I went to Fiesta across the street and stocked up on food,” said Meloni. “After returning to the hotel and having dinner, I felt pain in my lower abdomen. At the on-set I thought it could just be a stomach ache, but I soon realized that wasn’t the case. I googled appendicitis and realized it was a very serious situation. Immediately, my training as a ranger kicked in and I knew I needed to get myself to the VA.”
Meloni says one of the reasons he chose the extended stay hotel was due to providing transportation to and from the Medical Center area. He went down to the lobby to catch the next bus.
Meloni says he decided that his best option would be an attempt to get to the VA on his own. He used his phone to map a route to the VA on foot. He asked the front lobby staff for scissors, tape and a garbage bag. He then proceeded to wrapped his phone in the garbage bag and secure it to himself.
After braving the floods and wading approximately 2 miles through up to chest-high water and debris, Meloni made it to the Houston VA’s ER.
“I came here in the middle of a weather event where it would be not reasonable to get the level of service I was provided,” said Meloni. “I came here in the middle of a hurricane, got laparoscopic surgery in the middle of the night from an amazing surgeon here. The bottom line is, this was great. The VA did a bang-up job on this one, absolutely a bang-up job. When it comes down to bottom line mission accomplishment, my perception of the VA through this experience has changed 1000 percent. My treatment was spot on and squared away. There’s no private entity that could have done this better, which is substantial management of finite resources to make that happen, much more limited than what the private sector has and the VA pulled it off.”
Dr. Christy Chai, Chief of General Surgery and Surgical Oncology, an 8-year Air Force Veteran and the staff surgeon on duty for Meloni’s case says it was truly a team effort.
“One thing I went to emphasize is that surgery is a team sport, so even though I was the staff surgeon, we had the chief of anesthesia already in house as well as the operating room nurse manager and her staff of nurses and technicians, all ready to go,” said Chai. “We had some staff stay in since Friday, in anticipation of this Category 4 hurricane and as a hospital we were well prepared in anticipation of these emergencies.”
Chai says things lined up perfectly for her to operate on Meloni, sharing that even though she lives close to the VA, she was flooded in for a period and had to wait for waters to recede before the VA Police chief and his assistant could get her safely to the Medical Center, just in time to treat him.
“I really do think that we have a great team here at the Houston VA,” said Chai. “I don’t think at any time anyone ever talked about who’s shift it was. Everyone was taking turns on breaks and relieving one another to get rest. From our maintenance staff to Food and Dietary Services to the VA Police, we all worked together make it possible to provide the best care to our Veterans even in at the peak of Hurricane Harvey.”