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Woman wakes up during surgery to harvest her organs


Posted by Brendan Faulkner of D'Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC on Jul 08, 2013 in Doctor Errors

A recent news story sounds a lot more like a summer blockbuster movie plot than a very true situation highlighting a very serious doctor error. A woman had reportedly slipped into a coma and doctors pronounced her dead, even though she was actually still alive. They only realized their mistake when the woman woke up during the operation to harvest her organs for donation.

This horrific experience touched many lives and left many people wondering how such an egregious error could have been made. Residents in Connecticut would largely agree that doctors should know when a person is deceased, so understanding what happened here may be critical in preventing a similar medical mistake from being made. 

According to reports, the woman was admitted to the hospital after she had overdosed on a few different medications. She was in a deep coma for a period time, during which hospital staff erroneously assumed she had suffered permanent brain damage. They reportedly failed to conduct enough tests to determine how the drugs were affecting her and they also failed to take measures to prevent the medication from being absorbed into her vital organs. 

Shortly after the inadequate evaluation of the woman's condition, hospital staff notified her family that she had passed away. Her family was left to make the difficult decision of taking her off life support and donating her organs.

However, before the surgery to remove the organs began, nurses reportedly noticed that the woman's nostrils were flaring and she was responding to stimuli. Doctors ignored these crucial observations and began prepping the woman for surgery, at which point she opened her eyes.

As disturbing as this situation was, it may make it even worse to realize that the hospital and doctor escaped any serious punishment for this incredibly upsetting situation. The hospital never investigated the situation and was fined just $6,000 by the state health department. Since the accident, no charges have been filed and the hospital reportedly did little more than submit a plan for how to correct the issue. Without the penalty of being held legally, financially and publicly responsible for this horrific situation, the hospital may have taken inadequate steps to prevent this from happening again.

Source: Associated Press, "N.Y. hospital nearly took organs from living woman," July 7, 2013