Dead woman back alive just before her organ removed for donation

Doctors at a central New York hospital were minutes away from harvesting organs from a woman they believed was dead – then she opened her eyes. After being told she was dead, her family agreed to take her off life support and allow the organ donation.
Colleen Burns, 41, opened her eyes as she was being prepared for surgery by St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center in 2009, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported July 7. Doctors had told her family she was dead after a drug overdose, and relatives agreed to take her off life support and allow the organ donation.
Syracuse said the state Health Department found St. Joe's care of patient Colleen S. Burns in 2009 unacceptable and a federal agency criticized the hospital for not properly investigating the cause. The hospital's mishandling of the case was part of the reason the state Health Department fined St. Joe's $22,000 last September –the largest fine levied against a Central New York hospital since 2002. St. Joe's was fined $6,000 over the Burns case and $16,000 for leaving a patient unattended before she fell and injured her head in 2011. The state additionally ordered the hospital to hire a consultant to review the facility's quality assurance program, to implement that consultant's recommendations, and to hire a consulting neurologist to teach the staff how to accurately diagnose a brain death, according to New York Daily.
All the doctors did not pay attention to a nurse's notes which stated that Burns was not brain dead and in fact was getting better. A nurse performing a routine reflex test had discovered that Burns' toes had curled downward after the bottom of her foot was touched. Despite all the signs that Burns was still alive and had brain function, the nurse injected her with a sedative and failed to note it on the chart.
"Dead people don't curl their toes. And they don't fight against the respirator and want to breathe on their own," said Dr. Charles Wetli, a nationally known forensic pathologist out of New Jersey who reviewed the case for the Post-Standard.
The records Syracuse obtained under state freedom of information laws document a series of missteps, including doctors ignoring nurses' observations that Burns was responding to stimuli and trying to breathe on her own. The surgery was called off when she opened her eyes in the operating room.
The North Syracuse mother of three was released from the hospital after two weeks recovering from an overdose of Xanax, Benadryl and a muscle relaxant, but killed herself 16 months later. Her mother Lucille Kuss said Colleen Burns wasn't upset by the near-miss and it wasn't a cause of her suicide. "She was so depressed that it really didn't make any difference to her," Kuss said. The family didn't sue the hospital, despite doctors' failure to explain what happened.

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