Detroit man with virus symptoms dies after 3 ERs turn him away, family says: "He was begging for his life"

Man who was turned away from virus test dies
Man who was turned away from virus test dies 02:59

Last Updated Apr 22, 2020 8:14 AM EDT

A Detroit family is mourning a man they say was turned away from getting tested for the coronavirus three times. 

"He was begging for his life, but no one would help him at all. Like they just kept sending him away," said Keith Gambrell, the stepson of 56-year-old Gary Fowler.

Gambrell said he was concerned his stepfather had coronavirus. He took him to three different emergency rooms and said each time, Fowler was not admitted and not tested, despite having many of the symptoms.

"I honestly believe it was because my father was black. They didn't honestly take his symptoms serious enough to give him a test," Gambrell told "CBS This Morning" national correspondent Jericka Duncan. 

The day before Fowler died, his father, David, died from COVID-19. Soon after, Fowler's wife, Cheryl, began having symptoms of her own, landing her in the hospital.

"They put her on the ventilator. I'm just thinking like, man, this is it. I'm about to lose my mom too," Gambrell said. 

Gambrell was concerned other family members could be next, so he called his cousin, State Representative Karen Whitsett for help.

Whitsett, who visited the White House last week to speak about surviving coronavirus, made sure her family was tested.

Asked if she thinks her family would have been tested if she were not a state lawmaker, Whitsett said, "Absolutely not."

"And that sickens me to have to use that title to be able to have to get my family tested," she said.

Gambrell and his brothers Troy and Ross all tested positive, he said.

On Monday, Michigan's governor created a state task force to investigate racial disparities in the pandemic.

Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, who is the chair of the task force, said it will address "the fact that there may indeed be medical bias present when it comes to testing, as in who will even get a test, as well as in how treatment is administered." 

Gambrell, who has mild symptoms, is now focused on caring for his mother, Cheryl. She had been sent home from the hospital but was readmitted late Tuesday night on what would have been her 25th wedding anniversary.

Asked what he would say to people who are losing loved ones back-to-back, Gambrell said, "Just pray. You just got to continue to fight for them and live the life that they will live and be their voice. Someone has to speak for the people that can't get medical attention the proper way, and I feel like that's my duty now."

Michigan says it could perform more than 11,000 tests each day if it had enough tests. State officials claim swabs and reagents are in short supply, so right now they are doing about half of that amount.