Veteran denied surgery for rare condition that causes constant pain, severe weight loss

‘I look like skin and bones. I feel like skin and bones. I see it every day, and it chips away at the mental armor.’

Veteran denied surgery for rare condition that causes constant pain, severe weight loss
Army veteran Brandon Donovan says the rare condition Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome causes him constant pain, meaning he can hardly eat and has experienced severe weight loss. (Source: Brandon Donovan/Facebook/KVAL/CNN)

EUGENE, OR (KVAL/CNN) - An Army veteran says he’s out of options after the Veterans Administration in Oregon twice denied a surgery that top physicians say is necessary to treat the man’s ongoing pain.

After nine years of suffering with the rare condition Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome, Army veteran Brandon Donovan says he feels forgotten by the VA.

Donovan says he has no energy and is in constant pain. Because of the pain, he can hardly eat and has experienced severe weight loss.

In the pictures Donovan posted to Facebook, you can count the bones of his rib cage, and his face is gaunt, a far cry from the man deployed to Iraq in 2009.

Army veteran Brandon Donovan says the rare condition Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome causes him constant pain, meaning he can hardly eat and has experienced severe weight loss.
Army veteran Brandon Donovan says the rare condition Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome causes him constant pain, meaning he can hardly eat and has experienced severe weight loss. (Source: Brandon Donovan/Facebook/KVAL/CNN)

"I look like skin and bones. I feel like skin and bones. I see it every day, and it chips away at the mental armor,” Donovan said.

After almost a decade of tests at the VA that produced few results, Donovan sought outside care in 2017 from Dr. Richard Hsu, a vascular surgeon in Connecticut, who provided him with the MALS diagnosis.

MALS is a condition in which a ligament in the chest presses too hard on the celiac artery, which delivers blood to the stomach, liver and other organs, and the nerves in the area, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Symptoms include pain in the upper abdomen after eating, weight loss and nausea and diarrhea.

With the diagnosis, Hsu said he could fix Donovan’s pain, and a physician’s assistant at a top Portland hospital sent a letter to the VA saying it is medically necessary that Donovan be able to work with Hsu, a specialist in MALS, in pursuit of treatment.

When his symptoms began in 2009, Brandon Donovan was deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army.
When his symptoms began in 2009, Brandon Donovan was deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army. (Source: Brandon Donovan/Facebook/KVAL/CNN)

But VA administrators denied Donovan’s surgery twice.

"Someone that’s not a doctor confirms and denies those things,” Donovan said.

In the first denial, the VA said they have their own vascular surgeons, even though those surgeons suggested Hsu take over. In the second denial, the VA said they did not have a billing code.

“I felt hopeless, and it was kind of just like, ‘All right, I have no clue what to do,’” Donovan said.

Now, Donovan and his family are trying to pay for the surgery on their own by fundraising through GoFundMe.

"They try their hardest to get you the care, but they don’t follow through with it, and you will be forgotten if you don’t advocate for yourself,” Donovan said.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, has made an official inquiry into Donovan’s case. His office indicates they are working with Donovan and the VA to get him the necessary treatment.

Copyright 2018 KVAL, Facebook, Brandon Donovan, Richard Hsu via CNN. All rights reserved. Raycom News Network contributed to this report.