Veteran says Gilbert VA clinic turned him away before heart attack

GILBERT, AZ - A Valley veteran said he could have died waiting for help at the Southeast Veterans Affairs Health Care Clinic in Gilbert.

In an ABC15 exclusive, he said the VA clinic turned him away right before he had a heart attack.

Jim Gowan said it would have been too late for him if he had waited to be seen by a doctor at the clinic or driven to the Phoenix VA hospital for help.

He said his wife's quick thinking and care at a private hospital saved his life.

Gowan went to the VA clinic in Gilbert for some blood work on June 2. 

But then the pain started.  

“My chest was hurting, and it just felt like the pressure of someone just squeezing my chest,” he said.

The trip quickly turned much more serious for the 54-year-old Army veteran.

“My arms, they feel like they weighed 500 pounds, they were just burning on the inside of my arms,” he said.

Gowan described his symptoms to the nurse. He said she directed him upstairs to a waiting line.

Eventually, he was able to speak to someone.

“He says, 'just get in your car and drive to the VA. The Phoenix VA will take care of you, take you right away. Here, you're going to wait three or four hours.’ And I'm like, 'I can't wait 3-4 hours.'”

Gowan said he spoke to at least three employees who told him the same thing.  

He said the pain kept growing, so his wife Jenny stepped in.

“I was like 'come with me, we're getting in the car and we're going to the hospital right now,’” she said.

“We didn't make it to the first light and the heart attack-- everything hit me real fast. And I basically went down,” Gowan said.

Jenny rushed him to the hospital.

After emergency surgery at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, Gowan found out just how lucky he was to be alive.

“It was 99 percent blocked, I wouldn't have made it. He says if I waited any longer, I wouldn't have made it,” he said.  

Gowan believes if they had waited at the VA clinic or started driving to the Phoenix VA 31 miles away, there’s no doubt he wouldn’t be alive today.

“My concern is they didn't even have the courtesy to look at me. All these nurses running around, all the people in that facility, no one took the time to say, 'hey wait, time out, there's something wrong,’” he said.

His wife can't even think about the 'what ifs.'

“We have 5 children, 9 grandchildren, and for them to lose their grandpa and father, and for me to lose my husband is just not thinkable,” she said.

In a statement, the Phoenix VA Health Care System stated:

The Phoenix VA Health Care System is committed to delivering the highest quality care to Veterans.  Out of respect for Veteran’s privacy, we do not talk about a specific episodes of care provided.

The Phoenix VA Health Care System Outpatient Clinics refer emergency medical situations to the nearest Emergency Room or through 911 emergency services. 

The Gowans plan to file a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General.

The VA clinic in Gilbert has only been open for about two months.

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