It was exactly midnight when Caroline Burns eerily opened her eyes and looked at the operating lights above her, shocking doctors who believed she was dead and were about to remove her organs and donate them to patients on the transplant waiting list.
The Syracuse Post-Standard
unearthed a report
from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that chronicled the series of errors that led to the near-organ removal on a living patient at St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, N.Y., in 2009.
According to the report, doctors had inaccurately diagnosed Burns with irreversible brain damage and ignored nurses who'd noticed signs that Burns was improving: She curled her toes when touched, flared her nostrils and moved her mouth and tongue. She was also breathing on her own even though she was on a respirator.
Burns, who was 41 at the time, was initially found unresponsive and surrounded by empty bottles of Xanax, Benadryl, a muscle relaxant and an anti-inflammatory drug on Oct.16, 2009, according to the report. She was hypothermic and had a weak pulse, but she was alive.
Still, the EEG brain scans indicated "poor prognosis" on Oct. 18, so doctors planned to "wait and see" whether Burns would improve over the next few days, they told HHS investigators in August 2010, according to the report.
That same day, however, doctors told the family that Burns' brain damage was irreversible and that she'd undergone "cardiorespiratory arrest."
The family made the decision to take Burns off life support and donate her organs the next day.