'Dead' Woman Opens Eyes, Stops Organ Harvest

Syracuse hospital nearly killed her after mistaken death pronouncement

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 9, 2013 7:22 PM CDT | Updated Jul 13, 2013 9:46 AM CDT

(Newser) – The Syracuse Post-Standard has a medical story equal parts amazing and scary: Doctors who thought a 41-year-old woman was dead were preparing to remove her organs when she opened her eyes in the operating room. St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center eventually got fined $6,000 by the state after investigators found a series of mistakes in the near disaster, the most jarring of which is that doctors disregarded a nurse's observation that the patient had been showing signs of improvement and was not, in fact, dead. The woman had overdosed on Xanax and other drugs, and doctors concluded she had suffered not only a "cardiac death" but irreversible brain damage, reports the newspaper. Neither was the case.

Doctors scheduled the organ removal even after a nurse noticed that the woman's toes curled during a reflex exam; she also appeared to be breathing independently of her respirator. And still, the operation went forward, or would have had the woman not opened her eyes. A sad coda: The patient was released from the hospital two weeks after the incident, but she killed herself more than a year later, in 2011. (Details are just now coming to light thanks to a FOIA request by the Post-Standard.) St. Joseph's tells the New York Daily News it regrets the error and worked to set things right by the patient's family, which did not want the incident discussed publicly. Click for the full story. (This isn't the first instance of a supposedly dead person waking up, either; there was this time. And this time. And this time. And this time. Yeah, it happens a lot.)

  (Shutterstock)
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