Patient Caroline Burns Wakes Up as Doctors Prepare to Remove Organs
It might seem like the beginning of a horror movie: A woman, about to be cut open, wakes up. She is not knocked out by anesthesia nor is she dead.
Unfortunately, this is not fiction. It's a true story, and it happened to Caroline Burns.
Reports say it was exactly midnight when Burns opened her eyes, looking around to see doctors who believed she had died preparing to remove her organs and donate them to patients on the transplant waiting list.
According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, doctors had inaccurately diagnosed Burns with irreversible brain damage and ignored clues that her condition was improving, including her toes curling when she was touched, flared nostrils and moving her mouth and tongue. She had also began to breathe on her own even though she was on a respirator.
The whole thing began when Burns, 41 at the time, was found unresponsive and surrounded by empty bottles of Xanax, Benadryl, and a muscle relaxant and an anti-inflammatory drug on Oct. 16, 2000, according to the report. Though she was hypothermic with a weak pulse, she was still alive.
Toxicology tests at St. Joseph's Hospital revealed that she was suffering from a multidrug overdose. She was put on a ventilator due to her lack of response. And though poison control specialists recommended using activated charcoal to stop Burns' body from absorbing the drugs, the report shows that test was never performed and further toxicology tests were never completed to determine if the drugs were absorbed.
Despite frequent seizures, CT scans following also appeared normal, and without further notice, the doctor's told her family that Burns' brain damage was irreversible and she'd undergone "cardiorespiratory arrest." From there, they made the decision to take her off life support and donate her organs.
When Burns' turned out to be alive, her family decided to not sue as she had tried to commit suicide previously.