In 2009, Colleen S. Burns was on a hospital table. She had been pronounced dead, and doctors were preparing to remove her organs. Then she woke up.
The Syracuse Post-Standard recently obtained a report about the St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center incident under New York's Freedom of Information Law. The report revealed a number of mistakes in caring for Burns, including the fact that one nurse suspected she was improving, alerted doctors and was ignored.
Hospital staff suspected Burns, who had overdosed on Xanax, Benadryl and a muscle relaxant, was brain dead. Brain death occurs when oxygen from blood is no longer delivered to the brain, causing all brain activity to stop permanently, meaning there is no chance the person will wake up, HuffPost previously reported. Because Burns did not meet all the criteria for brain death, staff diagnosed irreversible brain damage, according to the hospital's documentation. Her family agreed to take her off life support after doctors explained they thought she had suffered "cardiac death," the Post-Standard reported. After Burns woke up, hospital officials decided the drug overdose could have accounted for her unresponsive state, ABC News reported. Burns was discharged two weeks later, and the hospital was fined $6,000.
While obviously frightening, a mistake like this is "exceedingly rare," American Academy of Neurology member Dr. Eelco Wijdicks told ABC News. He explained that the Academy's guidelines call for "about 25 tests for doctors to perform to be absolutely sure a patient won't get better."
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that doctors diagnosed Burns as brain dead.