"Dead" Woman Opens Eyes After Being Prepped for Organ Removal

John Fisher
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Stopping Medical Injustice

An Upstate New York hospital has been fined and is now required to undergo an independent quality assurance analysis after it was revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request that serious medical malpractice had been committed by both staff and doctors.  One example of these acts is when a drug overdose victim was deemed dead by the doctors of Syracuse St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center and prepped for organ removal.  However, once the patient was in the operating room she opened her eyes.

 

The patient was admitted to St. Joseph’s emergency department in 2009.  She had overdosed on Xanax, Benadryl, and a muscle relaxant.  It was revealed in hospital notes that the doctors thought that she had undergone “cardiac death.”  Doctors consulted with the family and they agreed to have life support withdrawn and her organs donated.  However, in reality the patient was in a deep coma from her overdose and did not suffer any irreversible brain damage.

 

There were plenty of indications that the woman was alive.  Nurse notes indicated that that the patient was not brain dead and was getting better.  These notes were not noticed by the doctor.  The nurse responsible for prepping the woman for organ removal noticed that her toes curled during the required reflex test, which would not have occurred had the woman been dead.  Additionally, the woman's nostrils showed the in and out breathing motion just prior the post-mortem surgery.  She also fought the respirator, wanting to breathe on her own.  Twenty minutes after the medical staff had recorded the nostril motions; the woman was injected by a nurse with a sedative and sent her to the operating room.  Once in the operating room, the patient opened her eyes and the doctors called the procedure off.

 

In August 2011, the New York Health Department required the hospital to submit a plan for corrective action.  Additionally, the hospital was fined $22,000 and ordered that outside consultants be hired to oversee the hospitals work; as well as teach how to diagnose death.

 

Since this incident, the hospital has reported that they have learned from the experience and have modified their policies to take into account cases with unusual circumstances such as the ones in this case.

 

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