Local discharged from Air Force basic training after finding out he has cancer

MILAN Andrew Metz spent six months preparing for his Air Force basic training, working out and keepi
susanmcmillan
May 24, 2010

MILAN

Andrew Metz spent six months preparing for his Air Force basic training, working out and keeping in touch with recruiters while finishing his degree at Steele High School in Amherst.

Once at the base in San Antonio, though, he lasted only two days.

What halted Metz's training in June wasn't a failure of body or willpower. It was a blood test.

Metz tried to keep a low profile and avoid drawing his instructor's attention.

"The only time he knew my name was when they called him and said I had to go to the hospital," Metz said. "And they didn't tell him why or anything, and I didn't know either."

The blood test showed sky-high levels of white blood cells, an indicator of leukemia. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed the diagnosis a few days later: chronic myelogenous leukemia.

Though completely asymptomatic, Metz was discharged. He arrived back home in Milan on July 24 after a month in San Antonio, most of it spent in the hospital.

Now his father, Tyson, and stepmother, Vanessa, are wondering how they'll pay for Andrew's chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant, which could run to $1 million. Military health benefits don't cover pre-existing conditions, especially for such a short term of service.

Although no health crisis is easy, the Metzes count themselves as lucky in a lot of ways.

For one thing, enlisting in the Air Force may actually have saved Andrew's life. If not for the blood test, the cancer may not have been uncovered for weeks or months.

Then there are the friends and family members who have pledged to watch the Metzes' three youngest children while Andrew receives treatment in Cleveland.

And there is Tyson's health insurance through Time Warner, which for now is reducing the cost of Andrew's medications by thousands of dollars.

"We're lucky as far as a lot of the other things our insurance is paying, but you don't realize all the extra things that come along with it," Vanessa said -- gas to get to Cleveland, extra child care and food, sterilizing the house for when Andrew's immune system is suppressed.

One major expense not covered by insurance is screening potential donors. Because Andrew has no full siblings, his name had to go on a national registry.

Now they have nine potential matches who need to go through more tests, a process that will take six to eight weeks.

"It only takes one person from someplace that can make a difference whether he's here with us in a couple of years or not, and he's here with us to play with his brothers and sisters," Vanessa said.

Doctors have said that without treatment, Andrew could be dead within three years, Vanessa said.

Andrew's doctor wants him to have the bone marrow transplant by the end of the year because his medications have not been entirely effective in lowering his blood counts.

For now, he is taking classes at BGSU Firelands in aviation operation and management.

"The amazing thing," Vanessa said, "is despite everything Andrew still wants to go back to the Air Force when he's cured -- if he can. Nobody will tell us if that's even an option. They won't say yes or no."

The Metzes are accepting donations for Andrew's treatment. If any money is left over, it will be donated to charity or contributed to Andrew's education, Vanessa said.

A career in the Air Force has been a lifelong dream for Andrew, who's had a grandfather in the Navy, an uncle in the Army and his father in the Marines. As a child, he decorated his room with pictures of jets, he said.

"Ever since then, it was enough influence with the family I just wanted to be a pilot," he said.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Contributions to the Andrew Metz Fund can be made at any Key Bank location. Checks may also be mailed to: Key Bank, 33 Public Square, Milan, OH 44846.