Hospital nearly donates organs of a patient who was still alive

Healthcare can be complicated. For this reason, some medical mistakes are excusable. Most of us with no medical training are nonetheless able to understand that things can go wrong and mistakes can be made even when doctors and nurses are working as diligently as possible.

Conversely, there are medical malpractice cases displaying so much negligence that it is hard to believe the people involved were indeed medical professionals. As just one example, a hospital in Syracuse, New York, was recently fined for a 2009 incident in which hospital staff almost harvested organs from an overdose victim who was not actually dead. It was only when the woman opened her eyes that the procedure was stopped.

The woman had been admitted to the emergency room after overdosing on Xanax and two over-the-counter medications. She was in a deep coma, but doctors erroneously diagnosed her with “cardiac death.” They received permission to take her off life support and to donate her organs.

When the state Health Department later investigated the incident, it found that hospital staff had failed to perform several tests and procedures before making its determination that the woman was not going to recover. This included an error in which doctors failed to pay attention to a nurse’s note that the woman had responded to a routine reflex test by curling her toes.

Other obvious vital signs were also overlooked. When the woman was being prepped to have her organs harvested, staff somehow failed to notice that she was moving her lips and tongue, that her nostrils were flaring and that she was able to breathe without the help of a respirator.

The staff finally noticed she was alive when she opened her eyes. Thankfully, this happened before her organs were taken.

The hospital has since been fined $22,000 for negligence and improper handling of patients. Compared to the magnitude of the hospital’s error, such a fine seems like a slap on the wrist.

Thankfully, most California hospitals are much more responsible and conscientious than this one. Nonetheless, very preventable mistakes happen every day in hospitals in California and around the country. When patients are harmed or killed by those mistakes, hospitals need to be held legally accountable.

Source: CBS News, “Hospital errors lead to “dead” patient opening eyes during organ harvesting,” Michelle Castillo, July 9, 2013

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