FLATWATER FREE PRESS – Michael Hansen shifted on the exam table, crinkling the thin medical paper covering the cream-colored vinyl furniture.
It was cold in the exam room four days before Halloween, 2020. The bare white walls amplified the overhead fluorescent light.
The 67-year-old Vietnam vet tried to control his anger. He and wife Lisa Hansen, sitting nearby, had promised each other they wouldn’t scream or cuss when doctors confirmed what the couple had begun to suspect.
Not that Michael had late-stage lung cancer — the Hansens already presumed that. Not that he had, at best, a few years to live.
They were waiting to hear that someone at the Omaha Veterans Affairs Medical Center had made a terrible mistake.
A few minutes later, Dr. Gary Gorby, the hospital’s chief of medicine, and Laura Whale, a risk manager, walked into the exam room and admitted just that.
The VA had found a nodule, or growth, in his lungs more than a year earlier, but failed to follow up, they said, according to a report filed by Gorby later that day. A radiologist report had identified the growth as a “possible malignancy” and “significant abnormality.”
The tumor, originally the dimensions of a postage stamp, had nearly quadrupled in size while another had sprouted in his left lung, according to radiology reports. It had grown and multiplied as the couple went about their lives in Omaha, unaware of the aggressive cancer spreading inside Michael Hansen’s lungs.
A different doctor later determined the hospital’s error allowed the cancer to progress from stage IA2 — which has a five-year survival rate of 83% according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer — to stage IV, which kills most people within a year
“It still feels like a gut punch every day,” Lisa said. “It’s hard to live with. … They destroyed our life” …