Karen Lombardi, a school instructional coach, had just taken an unruly child out of a classroom when she felt severe chest pains. She drove to Yale New Haven Hospital, sweating profusely and hyperventilating, and was diagnosed with a heart attack. Five weeks later, she was back in the hospital with more chest pains. It was another four months before Lombardi, 61, learned the cause of her pain, received effective treatment and returned to active exercise. She considers herself lucky because many women with heart disease never get an accurate diagnosis.
For the last six years, Idervan DaCosta has endured shortness of breath and pain in his lungs that feels like they are on fire. This happens every couple of months and lasts a few weeks at a time. DaCosta attributes it to inhaling toxins while sleeping yards away from burn pits in Afghanistan. But the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denied his application for disability benefits for the condition. Now, the Marine veteran and Brookfield resident has more hope.
Joshalyn Mills of Branford and Nancy Witz of Kensington had the best possible results after being treated in clinical trials with immunotherapy drugs for aggressive breast cancer: Their tumors were eliminated. But while there are dramatic successes with immunotherapy drugs, there are also many failures, and researchers are trying to find out why in hopes of expanding the drugs’ effectiveness. Cutting-edge immunotherapy drugs use a person’s own immune system to fight disease. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the drugs in 2011 for cancer treatment. Success has occurred in about 15% to 20% of patients with cancers such as melanoma, lung, kidney and bladder, according to a report by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Debra Geske, a Navy technician, was enjoying cranberry juice at a bar in Guam when a male sailor spiked it with a drug when she wasn’t looking. He and two other sailors drove her home and raped her. “I woke up the next morning full of blood,” she said. When Geske reported the rape to her petty officer in 2000, he said he couldn’t respond until higher-ups arrived on a Navy ship four weeks later. Then, officials told her it was a “he said she said” scenario, and “they did nothing,” she said.
Food makes Thomas Burke nauseous. Burke, an ex-Marine, won’t eat in front of people because he’s likely to vomit. He barely gets down meals and never finishes what’s on his plate. He’s struggled with anorexia and bulimia at different periods for more than a decade, and like many other veterans with eating disorders, he attributes them to his time in the military. Burke, of Weston, said that in his Marines’ basic training, drill instructors didn’t eat in front of the troops, which he saw as a message that eating is a weakness.
Army veteran Carlos Correa dreams of starting a business growing lettuce and tomatoes in greenhouses. But the traumatic injuries he suffered as a result of serving in Afghanistan prevent him from working. His wife now cares for him at home. Correa had thought he left Afghanistan unscathed because he was alive and uninjured. But over time, survivor’s guilt, sadness about the problems of veterans he counseled at work, deep-seated anger at an Army superior, and uncontrollable emotions overwhelmed him.
Every day, Dr. Leslie Miller of Fairfield thinks about selling her practice to a hospital health system. “Everybody who is in this environment thinks every day of throwing in the towel and joining a hospital,” said Miller, a sole practitioner in primary care for 20 years. “The business side is the problem,” she said, referring to expensive and time-consuming requirements of medical insurance and government regulations. Dr. Khuram Ghumman took the unusual route of working in a hospital system first, then going into private primary care practice because he objects to the “corporatization” of health care. He said conflicts of interest can arise if an owner and its employed physicians have different objectives.
After 35 years as an oral surgeon, Dr. Arthur Wilk closed his practice in Clinton following “daunting challenges” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Darien, Dr. Cecile Windels sold her pediatric practice to a hospital health system after enduring significant income losses. They are among thousands of physicians and other health care professionals across the country who have made coronavirus-prompted career changes such as closing practices, joining larger health systems and retiring early. The reasons for the moves vary from declines in income due to fewer inpatient visits to increased operational costs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and fears of contracting the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. Health care advocates say the changes will exacerbate physician shortages, further erode the existence of private practices, decrease patient choice of doctors and obstruct continuity of patient care. A January report in Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal of health policy research, said: “Consolidation tends to lead to higher prices without strong evidence of quality improvements.”
“The national trends are definitely happening in Connecticut,” said Dr. Gregory Shangold, president of the Connecticut State Medical Society.
Thousands of Army veterans with mental illnesses will get a second chance for a higher discharge status and veterans’ benefits because of a settlement in a class action suit brought by two Connecticut veterans. The settlement requires the U.S. Army to “automatically reconsider” every rejected application for discharge upgrades connected with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or related mental health conditions that it rejected over nine years from April 17, 2011 through November 17, 2020. So far, the Army has identified about 3,500 affected veterans of the Army, Army Reserve or Army National Guard. The lawsuit represented veterans who were given less than honorable discharges for behaviors they contend were triggered by PTSD, traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma or related issues. The suit contended that the Army failed to follow its own rules that require consideration of mental health in discharge upgrade applications.
In Connecticut, 47 veterans died by suicide in 2018, an increase of 10 from the previous year, newly released statistics show. The increase reflected a higher suicide rate than in the overall state population. The Connecticut veteran suicide rate was 25.1 per 100,000 compared with 14.6 in the overall state population. The state’s veteran suicide rate was 20.3 in 2017. The 2018 rate rose even though the state veterans population dropped by about 1,000 to 187,000.