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Patient Wakes Up As Doctors Prepare to Harvest Her Organs
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Imagine waking up from a drug-induced stupor and witnessing a series of medically veiled doctors reaching over your body preparing to remove your organs. This was Colleen Burns plight at St. Josephs Hospital Health Center in Syracuse. She had overdosed on Xanax, Benadryl, and muscle relaxants, and was treated at the hospital in an attempt to revive her. Though she was hypothermic and had a weak pule, they brought her in and did their best to revive the woman. After failing to give her charcoal to absorb the drugs in her system, being unable to get the tubes in her body, they waited a few days to see if she would pull out of it.

The EEG brain scans gave “poor prognosis” and after waiting, it was determined that Burns’ brain damage was irreversible and that she had undergone “cardio-respiratory arrest.” The family made the decision to take her off her life support and to donate her organs. It was at the time of organ harvesting that she stirred back to life, and revealed, ultimately, that her brain damage was in fact reversible. Later scans would show that her brain was doing just fine, and Dr. Eelco Wijdicks, who authored a criterion for determining brain death, has commented that drug overdoses can mimic brain death.


The family never bothered to sue, and Colleen ultimately committed suicide in 2011 at the age of 41.

St. Josephs is not discussing the case, at the family’s request, but say that “Things are never as simple as one newspaper article might make them seem,”  as ABC News reported, and adding also that “St. Joseph’s provides compassionate care to more than 2,000 people every day throughout our system,” she said. “Anytime something doesn’t go right, we take it extremely seriously.”

As there are 25 tests doctors perform to be certain that a patient won’t recover, such incidents as this are, as Wijdicks says, “exceedingly rare.”

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