US: Patient wakes up just before organs harvested

A patient in the state of New York woke up on the operating table as her organs were about to be harvested.

This comes as the Welsh assembly passed a controversial Bill last week to bring in presumed consent for organ donation.

Critics have previously warned that such a scheme may result in organs being harvested from patients who are not yet dead.


Mother-of-three Colleen S Burns was declared dead, and her family agreed to the withdrawal of life support and the removal of her organs.

But despite other signs that she was in fact still alive, it wasn’t until she opened her eyes and looked up at the lights that doctors called off the organ-harvesting process.

St Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse was fined $6000 for mishandling the case in 2009, the full details of which have only recently been reported in the American press.


Colleen Burns’ mother Lucille Kuss said the experience of her daughter who was actually alive nearly being cut open at the hospital was horrible for the family.

She had been rushed to hospital following a drug overdose and 16 months after the incident committed suicide.

The hospital, which works with an organ donation network, admitted to changing their procedures in the wake of the incident.


Spokesman Kerri Howell said: “We’ve learned from this experience and have modified our policies to include the type of unusual circumstances presented in this case.”

But she did say the strict rules provided by the organ donation network were adhered to in this instance.

The New York state Health Department found the hospital’s care of Colleen Burns unacceptable after looking into the case in 2010.


The investigation found that doctors missed key indications that the patient had not suffered irreversible brain damage, such as her nostrils flaring outside the operating theatre and her toes curling following a reflex test.

Yet a nurse gave Colleen Burns a sedative twenty minutes after these observations were made.

Two medical experts reviewed the case for a local news outlet.


Dr Charles Wetli, a nationally known forensic pathologist, said once signs of life appeared, the organ-harvesting process should have stopped.

And Dr David Mayer, an associate professor of clinical surgery at New York Medical College, said: “If you have to sedate them or give them pain medication, they’re not brain dead and you shouldn’t be harvesting their organs.”

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