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Patient opens eyes seconds before organs are harvested

Every so often, a shocking tale of medical malpractice will remind us just how egregious hospital errors can be. A 2009 example of this is just now getting media attention. The case involves a patient who was on an operating table ready to have her organs harvested because doctors believed she was dead. Needless to say, the doctors were shocked when the woman opened her eyes moments before the tragic mistake was made.

Following the incident, the state health department heavily fined the hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in New Jersey, after concluding the it never adequately investigated the incident. The patient had been suffering from a drug overdaose when she was admitted and the state determined that several errors had been made during her treatment.

For one, the state found that the hospital staff members had skipped a recommended treatment to prevent the drugs the patient had ingested from entering her stomach and intestines. The state also determined that not enough brain scans were performed and not enough tests were performed to see if the drugs had been completely removed from the patient’s system.

Perhaps most shocking, though, is that the state found that doctors ignored a nurse’s several observations that the patient was not dead and that her condition was improving. It wasn’t until the patient opened her eyes on the operating table — seconds before having her organs harvested — the doctors determined that she was indeed alive.

Ulatimately, the hospital was fined $22,000 last September as a result of this incident and another in which a patient was left unattended before failling out of bed and injuring her head. The hospital now claims it has learned from the mistakes and has “modified its policies.”

Sadly, the patient who was mistakenly determined to be dead ended up taking her own life roughly 16 months after the incident. Her family devided not to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital, though it was clear that serious mistakes had been made.

Source:, “St. Joe’s “dead” patient awoke as docs prepared to remove organs,” John O’Brien, July 7, 2013