Nov 11, 2019 10:00 AM

As a veteran, Frank Luthi was familiar with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Salt Lake City Health Care System. The VA offers medical care to enrolled veterans at VA clinics and hospitals. This includes primary care visits and other health services. When Frank was diagnosed with cancer, he didn’t realize he could also get treated by Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) physicians at the VA.

Frank began his military service in 1967 as an avionics technician in the Marines, then did a tour of duty in Vietnam from January 1970 to January 1971. After leaving the military, he received a degree from the University of Utah, got married, raised four sons, and had a career in construction and finance. In 2016, Frank was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.

Frank’s doctor, Tsewang Tashi, MD, is a hematologist/oncologist who works closely with the VA to provide patient care and do research. All oncologists at the VA are HCI physicians, Dr. Tashi explains. They see patients at both HCI and the VA. He says the partnership offers benefits to both HCI and the VA:

  • Patient care: Patients at the VA benefit from the up-to-date treatments and research being done at HCI. The VA cases are discussed with a team of experts to figure out the best treatment course for the patient. 
  • Treatment options: If a treatment is not available at the VA, such as radiation therapy, a patient can have it done at HCI.
  • Access to clinical trials: Veterans can take part in clinical trials through the VA thanks to the collaboration with HCI. 
  • Education: HCI and University of Utah residents and fellows do rotations at the VA as part of their training. They are able to treat veterans and get experience treating a variety of types of cancer, which may not happen in their specialty at HCI. 
frank luthi

Frank says the continuity of care between HCI and the VA was a huge stress reliever.

“Dr. Tashi would order an EKG and I would go to the VA to get it done,” he says. “Then the VA would send the results to him.”

As part of his treatment plan, Frank needed a stem cell transplant. Veterans in Utah who need a stem cell transplant usually have to travel to the VA transplant center in Seattle. But because Frank had Medicare in addition to his VA benefits, he was able to get the transplant at HCI. He received all his pre-transplant treatments and testing at the VA. Then he checked into HCI for his transplant, and 15 days later he went home. All his follow-up care was done at the VA.

Frank is now three years post-transplant and continues to see Dr. Tashi every six months. He has nothing but high praise for the VA and HCI.

“I really like the VA here,” he says. “They do a lot of work with the University Hospital and HCI. It’s a great partnership.”

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