"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. The Syracuse hospital has been penalized for other medical catastrophes, but the state "could not find another case similar to the Burns case after reviewing the past 10 years of inspection records," according to a spokesman.

The day before her organs were to be removed, a nurse had performed a reflex test on Burns, scraping a finger on the bottom of her foot. The toes curled downward – not the expected reaction of someone who's supposed to be dead.

There were other indications that Burns had not suffered irreversible brain damage, as doctors had determined. Her nostrils flared in the prep area outside the OR. She seemed to be breathing independently from the respirator she was attached to. Her lips and tongue moved.

The rest of the gruesome story is here.

The incident happened in 2009; 16 months later, the woman killed herself.

How often do horrific near-accidents like the almost organ harvest from a still-living Colleen S. Burns take place in hospitals? Hard to say, say the medical experts quoted in the article. It's not like the victims can tell us.

[syracuse.com via @LizSzabo]