Hospital Nearly Took Organs From Living Woman


Doctors at a Syracuse hospital nearly harvested organs from a woman in 2009 despite warning signs she wasn’t dead, state records indicate.

Colleen Burns, 41, opened her eyes as she was being prepared for surgery by St. Joseph’s Health Center. Doctors had told her family she was dead and relatives agreed to take her off life support and allow the donation.

Records document a series of missteps, including doctors ignoring nurses’ observations that Burns was responding to stimuli and trying to breathe on her own. The surgery was called off when she opened her eyes and the mother of three was released from the hospital two weeks later.

Burns’s mother, Lucille Kuss, said her daughter wasn’t upset by the near-miss. “She was so depressed that it really didn’t make any difference to her,” Kuss said.

The hospital submitted a plan to correct the problems to the state health department, which ordered it to hire a neurologist to teach staff how to diagnose brain death and a consultant to review the quality assurance program.