Patients and physicians in South Carolina might take a lesson from a case involving misdiagnosis of death and an aborted organ removal. In 2009, a woman woke on the operating table in another state just prior to an organ donation. The woman had been diagnosed with irreversible brain damage and taken off life support with the consent of her family. They also provided consent for the organ harvest procedure. According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report later brought to light, the woman “did not have irreversible brain damage [and] did not meet criteria for withdrawal of care.”
The series of mistakes leading to this nearly fatal surgical error were never pursued by the woman or her family in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The DHHS report ruled that the hospital’s investigation into the event was inadequate. The first report on the incident by the hospital was reportedly not crafted until almost five months after the event, and it was said to lack any analysis of what went wrong.
Guidelines for establishing brain death are available from the American Academy of Neurology, and it is unclear whether these were followed in this case. One conclusion that resulted from the DHHS investigation was that physicians failed to follow a poison control recommendation to administer activated charcoal. The woman suffered from depression, according to her family, and committed suicide in 2011.
When physicians fail to follow established procedures and the recommendations of specialists, the outcome could be a patient with worsened condition, serious injury, further medical expenses or even death. This can result in emotional pain and suffering for the survivor and his or her family, and it may also mean lost wages and other financial hardship. A medical malpractice attorney may be able to help patients receive compensation for surgical errors by holding a negligent practitioner or institution liable.
Source: ABC News, “Patient wakes up as doctors get ready to remove organs“, Sydney Lupkin, July 09, 2013