By Marilyn Shock
Wooster resident and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran Derrick Hardy, a member of the Arkansas Army National Guard 39th, is 100 percent service-connected disabled and hopes to bring awareness to his personal battle to receive quality health care.
Hardy suffers from Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), an inherited condition in which numerous adenomatous polyps form mainly in the epithelium of the large intestine. He first learned of the disease from a letter sent by the Red Cross while serving in Iraq as a lead gunner for convoy security with the Guard.
During his deployment, Hardy learned that both his mother and oldest sister were battling stage 3 and stage 4 Cancer as a result of FAP. He also learned he had a greater chance of developing the disease.
"Once I returned home from Baghdad, Iraq, I was told I had to also get tested," he said. "In 2008, at age 22 I underwent my first upper and lower GI scope which in fact showed that I had hundreds of thousands of pre-cancerous polyps in the colon and rectum, so many that it was not possible to cut or burn; my chance of developing cancer was at an all-time high. At that time, I was told the best option for me was to undergo a surgery that involved having my complete colon and rectum removed and to have an ileostomy bag. It took me a year to have that sink in because I was told I could have this major surgery or have cancer so I made the choice of surgery for my family. My surgery was completed on November 29, 2010, where I spent many days in the hospital having my procedure that I needed and many more days of recovery ahead."
Hardy cites controversy concerning health care for veterans as his motivation for his campaign. He has reached out to government officials, including US Rep.French Hill and US Sen. John Boozman.
"I questioned how I had come from a warzone in which I had been able to do anything and everything to then being put on restrictions which slapped me in the face of what I could now do in my new life," he said. "I spent many more hours trying to build my body up to what I was like knowing it will never be the way my life was."
Hardy’s oldest sister died in 2013 to FAP at age 35, then his mother in 2014 to FAP at age 59, and then his youngest sister 2015 at age 27.
"There are only three of us left, one brother and one sister," he said. "Also, 75 percent of our children from my brothers, sisters, and I have the same FAP."
In August last year, Hardy began another round of testing.
"On Monday, January 11, 2016, we sat down with another GI doctor to find out that this team of doctors could no longer handle my issues," he said. "Now we are waiting on yet another test which is a pill camera to see the same target area and then also at this time we are awaiting to be referred out to MD Anderson Cancer Center to see Doctor Patrick Lynch. We know are facing non ampullary duodenal polyps."
Despite his service-connected disability, Hardy said he is encountering problems getting access to the health care he needs from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the local VA medical facilities. His trip MD Anderson in Houston this month is in many ways, cost prohibitive.
"We are asking for any donations that others can give to use toward the cost of the travel and medical expenses," he said. "The VA hospital is doing what they can to help us out, but I have to front all of the cost of travel, food, and lodging and any additional expenses needed."
Hardy is married to Ashley and they have two daughters, Maddison, 5, and Sophia, 4. They also have a son, Mason, 3.
Hardy’s local supporters have set up a GoFundMe account at www.gofundme.com/derrick-fap. The site includes more about his fight and what is ahead of him medically.