Out-of-state veteran finds support in Sanford, community

Life-saving aneurysm procedure, month-long recovery bolstered by veterans groups

If not for a one of its kind procedure, Roy Fulps might not be alive.

The retired Navy veteran has been living with an abdominal aortic aneurysm for more than 15 years. Recently, the aneurysm enlarged so much, he’d ultimately need a procedure to save his life.

The problem? Fulps lives in Crittenden, Kentucky, and the only doctor who could do this procedure is Dr. Patrick Kelly, a vascular surgeon for Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“Roy came to us from Kentucky, through a physician in Cincinnati, Ohio,” Dr. Kelly said. “I always tell people, there’s a lot of major medical systems between Ohio and South Dakota. The reason why patients come to South Dakota is not that we’re any better surgeons than anybody else, it’s that we have this technology that we invented here in South Dakota, at Sanford Health.”

Vascular surgery, explained

Because it is not approved by the FDA, “five, soon to be six, other sites” can offer what’s called a manifold procedure, according to Dr. Kelly.

“The manifold is an investigational multi-branch construct that allows us to treat much more extensive aneurysms that go from way up in the chest, all the way down to the iliacs,” said Dr. Kelly.

The issue is that not everyone qualifies for the manifold procedure, but still need their aneurysm treated. Because of this, Sanford Health and Dr. Kelly created the investigational unitary device. This device is the entire manifold procedure’s multi-branch construct, wrapped up into one singular device.

“For that reason, we’re able to make it shorter. In general, it’s smaller, it’s more palatable for the patients who have an extensive aneurysm, but not so extensive that it requires the manifold,” explained Dr. Kelly.

Getting to Sioux Falls

For the past five years, Fulps’ doctor has been keeping tabs on his aneurysm every six months. But with each visit to the doctor, the size of his aneurysm kept growing, making it clear that Fulps was in dire need of the unitary device, only available in Sioux Falls under a clinical trial.

“We got to a point where it was beginning to rise to 7.4 centimeters. (It was) time to take some action. My doctor told me my option was to go to South Dakota,” said Fulps.

In his condition, Fulps could not drive himself to Sioux Falls. His son, a postal worker from Seattle, took off from work, driving nearly across the country to Fulps. Veterans Affairs provided transportation for the two from Ohio.

‘In the business to serve veterans’

Once in Sioux Falls, they met with Dr. Kelly. Following that meeting, it became clear after the unitary device procedure was finished, Fulps and his son would have to stay in South Dakota for up to 30 days. That’s potentially an entire month of paying for hotel rooms, food, gas, and any other needed expenses, without a source of income.

But that’s where both Sanford’s Veteran and Military Services and the South Dakota DAV stepped up.

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Weckman is the director of veteran and military services at Sanford Health. He reached out to Gene Murphy, the treasurer for the Sioux Falls DAV, explaining Fulps’ situation, and asking if the Sioux Falls DAV could help.

Murphy wouldn’t even let Weckman finish the question, offering to help immediately.

For Fulps and his son’s entire stay, Murphy lent them the use of a DAV vehicle for any and all errands. On top of that, Murphy presented Fulps and his son a $1,000 check, and $185 in cash, raised by the DAV, enough for Fulps and his son to get back home.

“We’re in the business to serve veterans. That’s our bottom line. We don’t run a bar; we don’t run a food service. We have one business: service to our veterans,” said Murphy.

“It’s just what we’re all about. Taking care of our fellow brothers and sisters in arms,” said Weckman.

And the gesture couldn’t have meant more to Fulps.

“It’s something you don’t count on. You don’t know what’s coming, and when it hits you you’re satisfied. I’m sitting back here, tickled pink as I can be. What more can a man ask for? I’m just so thankful for them,” he said.

Heading home

Minutes after being presented with the check and cash by both Weckman and Murphy, Fulps and his son headed into their meeting with Dr. Kelly, where they were told that Fulps is healthy enough to head back home.

Murphy and other officials with the Sioux Falls DAV wouldn’t let Fulps leave without one last gesture: They raised another $500 from a DAV meeting.

Without hesitation, and under the leadership of Gene Murphy, Marty Pennock, and Jim Wosje, they rose to the occasion and rallied the troops to raise enough funds for Fulps to pay for all their out of pocket expenses that have occurred during their stay in Sioux Falls, and their return home to Kentucky.

Fulps and his son left Sioux Falls July 16, with $1,687 raised by the DAV, free transportation, eased minds, and grateful hearts.

And Weckman is just as grateful — grateful for the opportunity to help a veteran in need, which “is what Sanford Health is all about.”

“We meet the needs of any and all patients, and take great pride in doing so.”

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Posted In Brain & Spine, Community, Heart, Innovations, Sioux Falls, Specialty Care, Veterans

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