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'Dead woman' opens eyes as doctors try to harvest organs

Colleen S. Burns admitted to St. Joseph's hospital in Syracuse after drug overdose.

surgery operating room surgical equipmentEnlarge
Clamps, scissors and other surgical instruments are seen in the operating room during a kidney transplant at Johns Hopkins Hospital June 26, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than two years after a New York woman survived a near-death drug overdose — and doctors who tried to harvest her organs for donation — she committed suicide.

For its role in treating Colleen S. Burns, St. Joseph’s hospital in Syracuse received a $6,000 fine from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’ve learned from this experience and have modified our policies to include the type of unusual circumstance presented in this case,” hospital representative Kerri Howell told The Post-Standard newspaper in Syracuse.

It started when the 41-year-old Burns arrived at the hospital in 2009 after taking a combination of Xanax, Benadryl, an anti-inflammatory and a muscle relaxant.

She remained in a coma for three days — suffering seizures during that time — which led doctors to ask her family for permission to harvest her organs.

Medical staff believed she had suffered a “cardiac death” and would never regain consciousness.

However, a resulting investigation by HHS found the hospital made several crucial mistakes, most importantly that a nurse had recorded improvements in Burns’s condition.

The 10-page report has been posted online.

Poison-control doctors also told hospital staff to administer charcoal, but St. Joe’s gave up when it couldn’t get tubes into her body.

They wheeled her into the operating room regardless, and it wasn’t until she opened her eyes on the operating table that doctors realized her true condition.

That operation was scheduled for exactly midnight, ABC News said, but Burns opened her eyes and stared into the OR lights.

Despite the ordeal, nobody in the family sued St. Joe’s, her mother Lucille Kuss told The Post-Standard.

Sixteen months after she was released, Burns killed herself.

“She was so depressed that it really didn’t make any difference to her,” Kuss said.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/offbeat/130709/dead-woman-opens-eyes-doctors-try-harvest-organs