YUMA, Ariz. – An active, young veteran seemingly healthy lost his life after a week of getting diagnosed with a fatal disease. Now the decorated veteran’s mother is upset not just by his sudden death, but the treatment a Yuma VA Clinic she says neglected to provide. “He was a very great guy he worked very hard, he had a great sense of humor, ” recalls Dena Gaviglia, Michael’s mother.
Michael was a Navy veteran who died this year in Yuma just after his 27th birthday. Gaviglia says, “He loved people, he loved to help people.” But she adds her son in turn didn’t get the help he needed when time came. “He thought he had a flu, then he noticed Sunday into Monday morning that he had a swelling under his armpit,” said Gaviglia.
Sunday, Jan. 24 Michael suddenly felt sick. Receiving health benefits through the VA system, he decided to wait until Monday for the Yuma VA Clinic to open. But Gaviglia says doctors wouldn’t see him. “They didn’t medically assess him,” said Gaviglia. “They could clearly see he had an infection under his arm.”
“He was very upset that they did not help him,” she added. Gaviglia says her son was told he could drive to Tucson four hours away, get to a local hospital, or make an appointment at their clinic March 4. “I believe in my heart, Michael would have went sooner to the emergency room,” Gaviglia said. “I think he just, I know he was concerned about accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bills.”
His mother says Michael barely drove himself home, then waited for a friend to get him to Yuma Regional Medical Center. Gaviglia says Michael got there shortly before 4 p.m. and was admitted by 5:20 p.m. that night. Between his visit to the Yuma VA Clinic and his assessment at YRMC, it had been 6.5 hours. And timing was crucial because doctors found Michael had Group A Hemolytic Strep Infection.
That’s a lethal bacteria that the CDC says can spread fast and be treated by antibiotics. But it was too late for Michael. Although physically fit, within one week of diagnosis his organs failed, his heart went into cardiac arrest, and eventually he fell into a coma. Leaving Gaviglia on Feb.4 with the responsibility to take him off life support.
The Tucson VA Medical Center released a statement regarding the case saying, “We have conducted a thorough review of this case and are taking appropriate actions to ensure that all Veterans receive appropriate and timely care at our community clinics. Again, we offer our most sincere condolences to the Veteran’s family.”
Gaviglia warns other veterans to not wait if they feel badly ill. She said, “Your life is so important, go to a hospital, your life is important. Don’t worry about the bills. ” The Tucson VA also reinforced the importance of getting to an emergency room saying, “If any Veteran is having a medical emergency, they need to seek immediate medical attention at the closest emergency department or call 911. If the VA Clinic is closed, the Veteran can still call the clinic’s phone number. They will be automatically transferred the VA’s 24-hour Nurse Line and a nurse will assess their condition by phone. “
For now the VA website
says they’re hoping to one day offer same day appointments when medically necessary to all of its medical centers by the end of the year. His mother says Michael’s hospital bills are more than $150,000, but according the the VA health benefits webpage
if a veteran gets medical attention outside a VA hospital or clinic, their payments could be covered if they meet a list of qualifications.