Navy OKs Reisterstown woman for cancer treatment Mikulski, Bentley credited in move

February 26, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

Donna Pettrey got a chance for life yesterday.

Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, chief of naval operations and acting Navy secretary, gave the go-ahead for the 24-year-old Reisterstown woman to receive a special blood treatment, considered her only chance against an aggressive and fatal cancer.

A Navy doctor said Mrs. Pettrey probably would be examined at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, then transferred to the Wilfordhall Medical Center in San Antonio, where the treatment will be performed.

"Ahhhh. It's a major sigh of relief," said Shirley McPherson, Mrs. Pettrey's sister. "We're worn out because it's been so long and all she's been through. Now we have to get her out there and get her treated."

Yesterday, Admiral Kelso told U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, a Maryland Republican, and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, he had made Mrs. Pettrey a secretarial designee.

"Thank you very much. I really appreciate what you've done for me," Mrs. Pettrey, the mother of a 2 1/2 -year-old son, said when Mrs. Bentley called with the good news.

Mrs. Bentley said she called Admiral Kelso after reading about the young mother's plight in The Sun.

"We believe strongly in this kind of service in emergencies like this. We pull out all the stops and do it right away," said Mrs. Bentley, adding: "My contacts with Navy people over the years were helpful."

Two years ago, pains in Mrs. Pettrey's back and legs were diagnosed as being caused by a slipped disc. Tests six months later revealed malignant tumors on her spine. At the time, her husband was in the Navy and their insurance paid for surgery and two months of radiation treatment. However, domestic problems arose and the couple separated.

In November 1991, Mrs. Pettrey went back to her family in Baltimore County. The following month, the cancer returned.

She found out her husband had used her medical condition to get a hardship discharge. The insurance had been canceled. The company that picks up coverage for former service members rejected her because of the cancer. Though the University of Nebraska accepted her for treatment last August, she couldn't pay the $250,000 bill.

Last October, she appealed to Senator Mikulski, but the Navy rejected requests to reinstate the insurance coverage.

The senator's staff took up the case again last month, after inquiries by The Sun.

"This has had such a happy ending. I'm so glad that Donna Pettrey will have her chance for treatment," said, Senator Mikulski, who also said Mrs. Pettrey was victim of a double tragedy: the cancer and the inability to pay for the treatment.

The treatment, called a peripheral stem cell transplantation, is Mrs. Pettrey's last chance against multiple myeloma -- malignant tumors of the bone marrow. Heavy doses of high-powered steroids and three hours of chemotherapy monthly at the Johns Hopkins Hospital are keeping the tumors in check.

Ms. McPherson said a trust fund at the First National Bank branch in the Chartley Shopping Center in Reisterstown would remain open. Peggy Goodman, the lawyer who set up the trust, said money not applied directly to Mrs. Pettrey's treatment will be returned to donors or distributed to St. Jude's Hospital for Children or the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center.

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