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A Woman Took Her 'Brother' Off Life Support. It Wasn't Him

Shirell Powell is suing Bronx hospital after case of mistaken identity
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 29, 2019 8:21 AM CST
Updated Feb 2, 2019 2:06 PM CST
A horrible mistake.   (Getty Images/Korawig)

(Newser) – It's hard enough making the painful decision to take a loved one off of life support, but Shirell Powell is facing the unimaginable reality of having taken a stranger off of it. The case of mistaken identity led to her thinking it was her brother, who she didn't know was actually in a New York City jail, NBC News reports. A man named Freddy Clarence Williams, 40, was admitted to St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx on July 15 after a drug overdose, his brain irreversibly damaged. Per its records, the hospital discovered it had treated a Frederick Williams before and called his sister, Powell—but, unbeknownst to the hospital and Powell, they'd called the family of the wrong Fred Williams. Hospital staff, meanwhile, told Powell that her "brother," also 40, was brain dead.

"It was a horrible feeling," she tells the New York Post. Due to all the patient's medical equipment and his swollen appearance, Powell believed it was her brother (even though her sister had initially been skeptical), and she gave the OK on July 29 to take the man off life support; it took nearly three weeks for the medical examiner to discover the mistake, right as they were getting ready to bury the wrong Fred. As for her real brother, still in jail, Powell says when she told him what had happened, he said, "You were going to kill me?" Her lawyer says the hospital, which she's now suing for unspecified damages for severe emotional harm, won't give her info on the deceased Fred Williams. A hospital rep says, "We don't feel there is any merit to this claim." Powell notes, "On the one hand, I'm thankful ... it wasn't [my brother]. On the other hand, I killed somebody [who] was a dad or a brother." (Read more lawsuit stories.)

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