"Dead" patient woke up as surgeons prepared to remove her organs


A depressed woman who overdosed on drugs was mistakenly pronounced dead and placed on the operating table for organ removal, because she was marked as an organ donor. Just one problem. Colleen S. Burns wasn't dead. New York's state Health Department fined St. Joseph's Hospital $22,000 for almost harvesting the organs from a living patient.… READ THE REST


Better get that tattoo on my chest,

"Before extracting my organs please make sure I'm actually dead... really...
Has my heart stopped beating? Check here ( ).
Has my heart stopped beating greater than 30 minutes? Check here ( ).
OK, you can take my organs now. I'm dead."


Eesh. I certainly hope this doesn't dissuade people from the rather important choice to be an organ donor.

Full Disclosure: No one is likely to want my organs... But I've always volunteered; I have pretty eyes, at least.


Given the...bafflingly unimpressive...performance on this case, I'm inclined to think that either St. Joe figured that if Ms. Suicide here doesn't want those organs, we don't really feel like waiting, or that they must be killing a lot of patients who have actually tricky diagnostic needs.

There's the 'intricate complexities of interpreting neural imaging results' standard of screwing up, and there's the 'the patient is showing enough reflexes that the nurse had to shoot her full of ativan, clearly dead!' standard of screwing up...


Death is a weird thing to diagnose, and I doubt we'll ever have a perfect way of making such a determination.

For example, there are living, breathing people in the world this very moment who have no pulse. No, not even just a very shallow, difficult to detect pulse (which is itself already problematic), but zero pulse, because their blood is being circulated via a "water screw" style pump they had implanted to assist or replace their hearts that do not actually operate properly or at all anymore. Turns out as long as the blood is flowing, it largely doesn't matter if it's doing so in pulses or in a continuous stream.

People have "woken up" from being "dead" many times. A stopped heart can restart. A stiff and cold corpse can warm and stir. Oftentimes we help the process along in various ways, but it also occurs somewhat less frequently on its own.

Now, it's clear from the story that the hospital in question cut some corners and was negligent, I have no argument against that, so rest at ease. But this is such an unusual and bizarre situation thatI feel it's worth expressing 1) just how hard it actually is to be certain someone who has suffered a non-violent "death" (especially someone overdosed on drugs!) is actually dead and 2) how despite this fact, this sort of scenario is absurdly rare, especially because the difficulty in positively diagnosing death drives professional medicine to be very sure about death before making a final statement.


The article contradicts itself on whether the hospital thought she was actually dead or just brain dead. It sounds like the latter was true, but the author tried to spin it as the former for sensationalism, which is kind of shitty. Note the sentence "Her family had agreed to allow doctors to withdraw life support and remove her organs after they were told she was dead." Hospitals don't generally need permission to withdraw life support from a corpse. It would also explain the sedative, if the doctor believed she was brain dead but might have enough autonomous response left to twitch during surgery.

It's still inexcusable, but it's easier to understand how it happened. If were in an irreversible coma, I would absolutely want my organs to be harvested while still healthy rather than spending 20 years as a brain-dead leech. I don't want to excuse what happened here, but there's different degrees of fuckupery.


There's another factor. As I learned on "Monday Mornings," all involved tend to have disgust with suicide victims.


I can somewhat understand where medical professionals might be keenly put off by suicide. If the average person has something of a natural (or perhaps cultural?) aversion to suicide, I imagine it must be even worse for those people who dedicate their energy, resources, and careers to saving life.

Working in a hospital requires you to grow pretty darn thick skin. You're constantly surrounded by people who are suffering, or even dying. If you're in the trauma side of things, coping with victims of all kinds of accidents or violences arriving at your doors only to die on the table is a monumental task. Even working with patients "merely" suffering from illness and disease constantly exposes you to the pain and deaths of others. You have to not only be able to not be affected personally by this atmosphere of anguish, you also have to then turn around and try to be outwardly positive toward the patients.

It's a tough job. It takes a great deal of dedication and self control. So to then have to tend to someone who wasn't the victim of an accident or a crime, but rather of their own demons? To be the person trying to save the life of someone who tried to throw it away? To have to take time and energy away from caring for people desperate to live, in order to try to save someone desperate to die? And then, to all appearances, failing? At which point, all you can do is hope that their organs can go on to save someone else?

Yeah, I can see that being a factor.


Kidney + Bathtub + Ice = Urban Legend


From an organ harvesting point of view, the ideal donor is one who is most definitely brain dead but whose other organs continue to function normally.


On the other hand, especially if your work isn't exclusively ER/trauma and includes more drawn-out age or disease-related EOL, I'd imagine that you could also grow thoroughly sick of desperate demands for painful, invasive, and nearly futile heroics and life support from patients(or family members) who have more or less given up on making sound medical decisions and are now taking out their terror of mortality on you...

That said, suicide seems to draw far more vitriol and disapprobation than I would have naively expected, so it could be that this has no impact.


People think I'm paranoid when I say my main concern of organ donation is doctor's incompetency. This proves that I'm not.


It's possible that this is what saved her life from those incompetent doctors. If she hadn't been a donor they might have just locked her in the freezer instead of prepping her for organ harvesting.


"This is just part of your freaky freaky dream Brett."

I'm sure others have heard this before, but I've had a physician friend tell me, not to be an organ donor, because they'll let you expire sooner in deference of harvesting the organs. Whether or not that's true, who am I to say, but food for thought.


Hence the term 'donorcycle' for the vehicle of choice among risk-enthused, healthy, young males who arrive at the ER with catastrophic trauma to the head and a few minor lacerations elsewhere...


Hmm. Old St. Joseph's in San Francisco was shut down decades ago due to bad care. Maybe Saint Joseph should stick to real estate.


I doubt that happens often, but even so I'd rather take the risk than discourage organ donation in general.

But then I don't understand why donation is opt-in instead of opt-out. There should be a box you have to check to not be an organ donor.


Because, religion.

Some people are just really touchy about what happens to the collection of organic compounds that previously housed their consciousness after they die. It's more important to them for their corpse to be left intact, pumped full of toxic chemicals, and stuffed underground in a box to slowly decay than for someone else's life to be saved by recycling parts of it.


Organ recipient here(liver). So I'm a bit biased. I'm skeptical of a doctor saying this. The thing about people who need organ donation is that is their only treatment. They aren't waiting for an organ for fun. An organ transplant is frequently a life-saving operation.
If you are in a terrible accident and an organ donor you are probably: 1. Young. 2.Healthy 3. If they could save you, you'd be better off than the person who needs an organ transplant.
Personally I had liver failure, osteoporosis, and overall low-quality of life. My only chance was a risky transplant with a chance that I'd have to have more transplants in the future. (Occasionally, the drugs you take post-transplant can damage your kidney. Then you need a kidney transplant.)

My donor was a 20-something male. Probably no drugs. No hepatitis. He or she ate well. They didn't have fatty liver disease.

So lets compare. Should the doctor save the person who's in front of them? Who's in the prime of their life and super healthy?
OR Should the doctor let that person die so they can MAYBE save a person who's health is bad and who they are unlikely to treat? The ER doctors are not the one's who do the transplant. There is a transplant team that handles the transplant. My transplant team treated me for two years before my transplant. I have no idea who the ER docs were who treated my donor.

I'd be suspicious of any 'doctor' who doles out advice like "Don't be an organ donor, they'll let you die."
AFAIK, doctor's are supposed to save any life they can. I doubt an ER doc is digging out your driver's license before they treat you to see if they can do a half-assed job. When they have you dying on the table, they'll probably do their best to save your life.


You'd be surprised at what you can offer. There's a lot of good your body parts can do after your death. Aside from the major stuff(Heart, Liver, Lungs, Kidneys) Your skin, bones, and tendons can help someone who's suffering.