New York Doctors Misdiagnose Woman’s Condition, Fail To Properly Treat Her, Wrongly Pronounce Her Dead, And Begin To Harvest Her Organs When She Wakes Up . . . Fined $6,000

559602_10151008125724657_1012420606_aThe medical staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital Center in Syracuse, New York may have committed the ultimate act of malpractice in 2009 — a litany of errors that culminated in doctors wrongly pronouncing her dead and preparing to harvest her organs when Caroline Burns, 41, suddenly opened her eyes. What is equally troubling is that the hospital was fined just $6000 and never called to account in a court of law. Burns committed suicide a few years later in 2011. It is not clear why she or her family chose not to sue (also some reports have her name as Colleen Burns).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a report on the incident.

Burns was admitted after an overdose of Xanax and Benadryl. The mistakes began almost immediately at the hospital. It was recommended that the doctors order activated charcoals to stop the absorption of the drugs but the doctors failed to do so. That allowed the drugs to be absorbed in the system and she started to suffer seizures. Yet, CT scans showed that her brain waves remained normal. Doctors told the family that she was gone and they agreed to discontinue life support.

The report found that the doctors misdiagnosed cardiopulmonary arrest and then misdiagnosed irreversible brain death. They declared her brian dead despite that fact that Burns would curl her toes when touched, move her mouth and tongue and flare her nose — classic responses for a person who is not brain dead. Moreover, while she was on a respirator, she was beginning to breathe on her own.

The doctors proceeded to harvest her organs only to have her wake up on the table. One would expect the mother of all torts actions, but Burns took her own life in 2011. The hospital was fined just $6,000 for unacceptable patient care. One report says that there was an additional fine of $16,000 from the state of New York for leaving her unattended and allowing her to fall. Notably, that failure was given more weight than the horrific series of negligence in the diagnosis. Moreover, the total amount would also be little more than a symbolic slap on the wrist for the hospital. There is no record of any discipline against the doctors or effort to have their licenses suspended or withdrawn.

It is the type of phobia that keeps some people from agreeing to be organ donors — the fear that medical staff will be too eager or negligent in their pronouncement of death. The case may well also revive the controversy over a move a couple years ago to allow doctors to harvest organs when patients are listed as dying as opposed to dead.

30 thoughts on “New York Doctors Misdiagnose Woman’s Condition, Fail To Properly Treat Her, Wrongly Pronounce Her Dead, And Begin To Harvest Her Organs When She Wakes Up . . . Fined $6,000”

  1. None of the doctors making those decisions regarding Ms. Burns should be doctors in the future. The governing board of St. Joseph’s shouldn’t be Board members if they didn’t pull the certification to practice at that hospital from those doctors immediately. I suspect that all patients are not treated equally and a suspected suicide patient isn’t treated with the same diligence as other patients.

    And what Gene said.

    There are new technologies that could treat people with otherwise deadly illness/insult that I have read about being used in Australia and Japan (Japan has standardized the use of EMCO units in emergency rooms- it’s not experimental) Trials are going on in the US in one hospital.

    “Parnia says these methods are not only straightforward and relatively cheap, but also could save up to an estimated 40,000 American lives per year. To help spread the word to doctors and patients alike, Parnia wrote a book earlier this year called The Lazarus Effect.”

    The whole question of what/when is dead really dead and how do we determine that is becoming incredibly difficult with technological advances. Add to that certain techniques, like the one linked above and it just becomes nightmarish. The EMCO technique listed above, if it could be somewhat miniaturized, along with the Auto-Pulse system could be used in specialty EMS units. Who gets treated and when is dead “too dead” to try is complicated exponentially.

    Stories like Ms. Burns’ just make my head hurt.

  2. I recall a MASH episode where they do a new procedure to transplant an artery. When BJ rushes in with the artery, Hawkeye says “What took you so long?” BJ says, “The other guy was still using it…”

  3. raff, I agree it should not be about ACA. I was merely responding to comments about it. The recent news involving the 11 year old girl needing a lung transplant, and the stupid rules preventing it, shows just a glimpse of what is a mish mash of rules and regulations regarding organ transplants. We will be facing more and more bioethical questions. I think our medical, legal and govt. communities aren’t prepared for it. There will be NO easy answers. And, human nature tends to have a head in the sand philosophy w/ tough issues.

  4. Gene H,
    Thanks for your comment and I suspect you are entirely correct. I didn’t have it explained to me but I was told that it was possible to sue before the incorporation of the entire medical community in the region. Now, it is impossible to litigate or so I am told.

  5. I have a firend whose close relative died needing a heart. I was appalled when she told me she was not an organ donor and would never be. She was afraid they might take her organs before she was dead. I told her that was ridiculous, just wouldn’t happen.
    Something really smells with the whole scenario from the first “error” to the last. Did they need organs for someone else? Were they all such lazy bums/medically illiterate they didn’t know how to treat this woman and her condition?
    As for lawyers being willing to take these cases, I have had my own horror stories about lawyers who don’t want to be bothered unless they feel there will be no down side and they have to do almost no work. This sounds like a case that would fit that criteria but maybe there is un underlying story not divulged.
    (I had a slam dunk case, perjury (court said so, proof malpractice, negligence, and more. The lawyer was oo lazy to even fight for a decent settlement. That case also had to do with the name of the doctor and hi place in the community. Some, one, doc may have a name that made the lawyers say No.)

  6. Sure thing, raff.

    And I’ll bet that Nancy Parris also has the misfortune of living in a jurisdiction with caps on med mal damages. I’ve seen the exact same thing happen to people injured by doctors where the legal community will not/can not help a victim of malpractice because damage caps have made it financially non-viable to prosecute med mal claims. “Tort reform” my ass. It’s the medical and insurance industry buying a political “solution” to their liability when doctors screw up.

    Which doesn’t explain the instant case. Unless it has changed recently, New York doesn’t have caps. Finding legal representation shouldn’t have been difficult.

  7. So now this story is about Obamacare and not these doctors? These doctors should have lost their licenses for this “unacceptable patient care”.

  8. RTC, You do remember we were assured by Obama, Pelosi, etc. that it was not a tax when this Frankenstein ACA was being assembled. SC Justice Roberts labeled it a tax to, in his mind, make the law constitutional. Let’s at least not try and rewrite recent history.

  9. That won’t be that case for me, Antoine Peters. I plan of having judges locked up for these very reasons and the public WILL BE BEHIND ME. A litany of errors and I’m using you in the case too. My records will tell it all. Misdiagnosis, etc. You people actually hate whoever gave you life so much that cowardly, you must get on the other end out of fear. I’m telling you under common sense, laugh now, but cry later by HE who apparently gave you life. I remember it was if when I filed some papers, the act itself it, had the effect of terminating a government official sending um off perhaps to where he needed to be. Now that was not malpractice.Figure it out who by date.Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

  10. OMG…. What next… The Doctors in line for Chief Surgeon….

  11. You are an attorney and you must know the cost of incorporating medicine. I had a nasty incident in a hospital which left me 10 days in the ICU. There is suffering and long term damage (I suspect) but no one could/would touch them because it wasn’t worth it. One has to lose a limb or life to make it worthwhile to sue these people. This is the consistent story I was given from every firm for miles around, including different states. The best I got was that they dropped the ICU charges. Incorporated medicine may work for the medical community but it is not healthy for the public.

  12. David, David, David…you know very well that’s not a fine which you will pay, but a tax, which should help hold down the cost of your health care by covering the costs for treatment of uninsured patients for which medical care providers routinely tack on upcharges to paying customers.

  13. $6000 fine, that will sure deter that type of conduct going forward! Hospitals are poorly run organizations. Doctors are often poorly supervised and medical care is often secondary to making more money even when the facility is a “non profit”. Add the fact that this hospital is likely to be a religious facility and you have perfect storm! Don’t sign that card and make sure your legislators don’t vote for any opt out donor system. Trusting in large institutions is a big mistake.

    I understand all of the arguments for organ donation but I also understand the quest for money and the view that patients especially certain groups or types of patients are expendable. It is dangerous.

  14. Cases like this is partly why I distrust the medical establishment. Now I have Obama Care (ACA) going to fine me for not wanting to participate in the medical system of my own personal health care, and the SCOTUS says government has a right to force me to involve these medical professionals in my health care.

  15. Yikes! Did this Doc have a friend or relative waiting for an organ this woman could provide? Does he know any really really rich people who could use one or more organs. I know who gets an organ is suppose to be on the up and up, but this has to make you wonder. How many ‘mistakes’ was made and the nurses didn’t complain to someone with more authority?

    Did they harvest her organs after the suicide?

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