NASA engineer denied new cancer treatment that could cause less damage than radiation

- Derek Willingham is a 34-year-old newlywed who moved to Pearland two years ago to start a new life with his wife, Pamela and to continue his dream working for NASA. Last October, Willingham had a seizure while working at the Johnson Space Center. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor following that incident.

In January, Willingham underwent a successful 11-hour surgery to remove 40 pecent of the tumor from his brain. His doctors at MD Anderson suggested removing the other 60 percent via Proton Therapy, which causes less damage to brain cells than radiation treatment. It needs to be approved by Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Federal Employee Plan, but was denied twice since it was found not “medically necessary and there is insufficient evidence.”

Willingham's mother, Sherry Shaw, reached out to FOX 26 after their appeal was denied.

“We understand that insurance is a business. We get that, but in the long run the collateral damage that this could do to Derek's brain is far more expensive,” says Shaw.

It has been Willingham's dream to work for NASA. He has worked as an engineer for 10 years. He tells FOX 26 he wants nothing more than to go back to work, and fears that if radiation treatment causes harm to his brain cells, he may never be able to work again. He worries about $100,000 in medical bills him and his wife will face if they cannot get this approval.

“It affects both of us and I don’t want my conditions to affect the people that I love that makes me feel pretty terrible," says Willingham.

Time is of the essence since Willingham's doctors say ideally they want to start the treatment in three weeks. We reached out to Blue Cross Blue Shield for a comment and are still waiting for a response.

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