The Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire. KEITH BEDFORD/GLOBE STAFF
Top 2 officials out at Manchester VA hospital.
Robert C. McWhinnie pushes his walker through his home in Gilmanton, N.H. The 85-year-old Korean War veteran has an inoperable tumor around his upper spine, limiting his mobility. For 21 years, the tumor’s growth went undetected despite many visits to the VA hospital in Manchester, his lawyer says. KeithBedford/Globe Staff
McWhinnie, a Korean War veteran who lives in the small New Hampshire town of Gilmanton, relied mainly on a wheelchair to get around when he first visited Dr. William “Ed” Kois, head of Manchester VA’s spinal cord clinic, in July 2016. McWhinnie, who was 84 at the time, had long been a vigorous man who built much of the furniture in his house from maple trees on his land. But then his legs and arms grew weak, he had difficulty talking, and he became incontinent.
Kois immediately got alarmed when reading McWhinnie’s medical records.
They showed that the retired telephone cable splicer had undergone two surgeries at the VA hospital in Jamaica Plain to remove a tumor from his spine in 1995 but that the surgeon could not remove all of it, according to a copy of the records that his family shared with the Globe.
Over the next 21 years, McWhinnie went to the Manchester VA dozens of times for treatment of a variety of ailments. But no one had done imaging to find out if the tumor was growing again, even though regular monitoring was the standard of care after surgery on this type of tumor, according to his lawyer, Mark Abramson.
At least as far back as 2007, McWhinnie was gradually losing the ability to walk, the records indicate, something that could have been caused by a tumor pressing on his spine.
Kois “took one look at Bob, and he said, ‘Oh, my God, this is a disgrace. This man should have been taken care of,’” recalled McWhinnie’s wife of 63 years, Janice McWhinnie.
So Kois ordered an MRI and an X-ray and, sure enough, the tumor was choking McWhinnie’s upper, or cervical, spine. It had also grown too big to remove.
“They ignored him basically for 20 years and allowed this thing to grow and grow and grow,” said Abramson, who recently wrote the VA in Manchester and in Boston that his client intends to sue for negligence.
Hospital officials declined to comment, citing potential litigation.