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Car wreck leads test pilot to cancer discovery, recovery

On Christmas Eve 2018, a car crashed into Kelsey Veer’s vehicle as he was running errands before heading home to celebrate the holiday with his wife, Tami, and their five daughters, ages 2 to 11.

"I declined services at the scene because I mostly had cuts, bruises and scrapes," says the 36-year-old test pilot. But once home, Tami convinced him to go to the Newton Medical Center ER to get checked out.

After a CT of his head and X-rays of his chest, he was released to go home.

Two days later, Kelsey received a call from the lead radiologist, who said further review of his X-rays revealed what appeared to be a mass on his upper right arm near his shoulder.

After additional X-rays, Kelsey was scheduled for an MRI on Jan. 10. The following morning, he went to see his family physician, who told him that it appeared that he had a malignant bone cancer and referred him to orthopedic oncologist Christopher Halphen, DO, with Ascension Medical Group Via Christi in Wichita.

Dr. Halphen, who is the only orthopedic oncologist in the state west of Kansas City, saw him that same afternoon. He confirmed Kelsey’s diagnosis of chondrosarcoma of the right humerus and ordered a CT scan of his chest as that type of cancer frequently spreads to the lungs.

“We were on pins and needles so we really appreciated that he was there, letting us know that my scan came back clear before we even left the room,” says Kelsey, who posted on Facebook his gratitude “for the advanced warning God has granted us and for the clear chest scan.”

Even so, Kelsey still was facing a long and challenging road to recovery. But having researched Dr. Halphen’s training and reputation and “seeing how much he truly cared,” he was comfortable that he was in good hands.

The couple asked for "every prayer that can be mustered for our family and for the medical teams that will be helping us" and then began the wait for a cadaver humorous of the right size and shape to be found. Eleven days later, "We have a bone!!!!" his wife Tami joyfully shared on FB.

On Jan. 28, Kelsey was admitted to Ascension Via Christi St. Francis, where Dr. Halphen cut through the muscles surrounding his humerus, the largest bone in the arm, and surgically removed the upper end of the bone. He then grafted on the donor bone end within Kelsey's existing shoulder socket and completed the reconstruction.

Four days later, his cousin Tristan Clark, a patient transporter at St. Francis, wheeled Kelsey out to the car, where Tami was anxiously awaiting to take her "precious cargo" home.

Two weeks after surgery, Kelsey returned to see Dr. Halphen, who told him that his cancer had been encapsulated within the bone and was completely gone. On Feb. 25, he returned for a full body bone scan, which the following day they learned revealed no evidence of cancer.

When Kelsey had his 6-week follow up in mid-March, the humerus bone joint wasn’t yet showing signs of growing together, a process that can take up to six to nine months.

The couple requested prayers that the bone would begin to heal so that the another graft wouldn’t be needed and for the physical therapy Dr. Halphen ordered to help relieve the stiffness in his shoulder joint.

The following month, Kelsey’s CT scan of his lungs was once again clear and “we are starting to see the bones healing together,” Tami wrote. “Huge answers to prayer.”

Kelsey continues to go for physical therapy three times a week to rebuild his strength and range of motion and recently was released to return to work.
“I won’t be flying any time soon, but they found desk work for me to do for now,” he says, and he’s thankful for that and being able to receive the care he needed close to home and family.

He’s also grateful for the car accident that totaled his 1969 Dodge Charger that fateful Christmas Eve and led to the discovery that the entire core of his humerus had been destroyed by cancer. 

“Had that bone broken open or that cancer been introduced into my system, I would have been in real trouble,” he says, because chondrosarcoma is a type of cancer that doesn’t respond well to chemotherapy or radiation.

“So I look at my accident as divine intervention. Without it, my situation would have been much worse.”

About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.