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‘Dead’ Patient Woke up as Surgeons Prepared to take her Organs

Update Date: Jul 09, 2013 09:49 AM EDT

A report of a 2009 accident in which doctors almost harvested organs from a living woman's body has surfaced as the hospital got fined for unacceptable medical practices. Caroline Burns' life had flashed right before her eyes as they opened to the sight of operating lights. Burns, who was 41-years-old at the time, was pronounced dead at the St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, NY. The doctors then proceeded to remove her organs for patients on the transplant list. Burns woke up on the operating table just in time to save the doctors from making a huge mistake. Now, the report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which chronicled the series of events that led up to such a horrible mistake, has been revealed.

The HHS report concluded that the doctors had misdiagnosed Burns with irreversible brain damage despite accounts made by the nurses that noticed improvement in Burns' condition. According to the report, Burns was capable of curling her toes when touched, moving her mouth and tongue, and flaring her nose. Despite having a respirator, Burns was also staring to breathe on her own.

"The patient did not suffer a cardiopulmonary arrest [as documented] and did not have irreversible brain damage," the report revealed. "The patient did not meet criteria for withdrawal of care."

Burns was admitted to the hospital after she was found unresponsive most likely due to a Xanax and Benadryl overdose. She initially remained unresponsive after being treated at the emergency room. The report then revealed that specialists had recommended using activated charcoals to help prohibit Burns' body from absorbing the drugs she had taken. Despite this recommendation, nothing was done, which led to the possibility that Burns kept absorbing the pills into her system. After over a week at the hospital, she started suffering from seizures but head CT scans revealed that everything was still normal.

Although the report stated that the doctors wanted to take a "wait-and-see" approach with the slight chance of improvement, the doctors ended up informing family members on the same day that Burns had irreversible brain damage and had suffered from cardiorespiratory arrest. Burns family then chose to take her off life support and give her organs to patients who need it.

Just before the doctors would cut into her, Burns woke up and saved her own life. Despite this miraculous recovery, she committed suicide in 2011 and no one ever filed charges for the poor care that she received at the hospital. The doctors and hospital officials reported that the misdiagnosis was most likely due to the fact that the drugs in her system have the capability of mimicking brain death. After an extensive review, the hospital was fined $6,000 for unacceptable patient care.

Not only did the hospital skip several steps in the process of treating Burns, they also ignored nurses. The medical care was very poor and the state health department has required the hospital to hire a consulting neurologist, who will help educate the staff on how to diagnose brain death. A consultant will also be hired to look over the hospital's quality assurance program. 

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