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Trisha Torrey

Thinking Twice About Organ Donation

By July 7, 2013

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I'm a huge proponent of organ and tissue donation. I've written many times about the gift of life, the ability to leave behind parts of us that still work well to improve the quality of life for someone who deserves it....

But stories like this one make me shiver, and especially because it happened in my own backyard.

It's the story of a woman who had not yet died, who was treated poorly, was injured in a fall in the hospital, was given sedatives even though she was in a coma.... and then when they thought she was brain dead, she woke up as surgeons were getting ready to harvest her organs.

The hospital has now been fined. They were fined for a few things they did wrong, but only $6000 for "mishandling the case."

BIG DEAL!!! Seriously?? Such a small fine is just so wrong on so many levels. It's too close a reminder that drug companies don't care who dies from taking their drugs or what fines they are required to pay later, because they always make more money in profit than the fines cost them anyway.

It's just another cost of doing business.

The worse part is that the fines were a result of the fact that the hospital didn't investigate properly afterwards - not that they almost killed a woman to harvest her organs. The investigation wasn't done until the local newspaper asked questions of the state health department. Had the reporter not been on his toes, there would have been no penalty at all, and we would never know it happened.

Among the requirements from the state is that the hospital hire a consulting neurologist to teach staff how to accurately diagnose brain death.

Seriously? The staff doesn't know how to determine whether someone is brain dead?

Yes - I am still a supporter of organ and tissue donation. The many many RIGHT and GOOD reasons are so much more weighty than the possible problems.

But believe me, you will not find me, nor anyone I care about, at that hospital - ever.

Learn more about organ donation as an end-of-life gift.

Learn more about issues and inequalities regarding organ donation.

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Agree? Disagree?
Share your experience or join the conversation!


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July 9, 2013 at 10:42 pm
(1) Diane Van slyke says:

Were any of the people involved in the improper diagnosis dead, fired? Licenses revoked? Put on probation even?

July 11, 2013 at 12:22 am
(2) That Guy says:

Trisha: Why not fault the media for their various faults in reporting this case?

–Ignored the fact that the friends/family didn’t want this information released. Though not illegal, it’s an ethical wrongdoing. I heard that some of the (now deceased) patient’s friends just found out she committed suicide as a result of reading this article!

-Minimized the fact that the family did not sue the Hospital, when they were well within their right to do so. To me it says a lot, all things considered.

-Implied that Organ Donation is a horrible program. I’ve seen numerous posts by people that says they are re-thinking their decision to be a donor. Though every program/process has a risk of going bad, the overwhelming majority of procedures don’t suffer any complications. A sensationalized story like this will have a huge affect on organ donor programs.

-The hospital has not released a specific “rebuttal” to the inaccuracies in the article, as it appears they are still following the family’s wishes and NOT discussing the matter in public.

-Glossed over the fact that at the end of the day, the patient was not operated on and the ending outcome was that the patient was discharged from the hospital without further incident.

Though I am certain there were many wrongdoings by the hospital/staff, and that the patient’s family and friends still suffered the pain of thinking she was dead, let’s be honest: there could have been much worse outcomes in this particular situation. If you think this doesn’t happen at every healthcare institution all over the country, you are oblivious.

July 11, 2013 at 3:16 am
(3) Cecilia says:

I really don’t know anything about the family’s wishes, but what you say about this happening at every hospital, if its true (and I doubt it), then I won’t set foot in the US again!
The process for harvesting organs is very complex, and in other countries includes ans independent team from another hospital verifying the brain death, reviewing the EEG, ( many on them) that show no brain activity, doing another one, verifying that the patient doesn’t respond to stimuli, and other things. You don’t have that in the us? You don’t do Electroencephalograms? How can you misread that?

And second, the fact that “it didn’t happen” doesn’t count, first, because it didn’t happen due to chance, not because they got it, and second, because near-fatal-mistakes are nearly as bad as if it had happened.
This is nearly as bad, and the investigation is a joke.
You are completely right, Trisha.

July 11, 2013 at 8:37 am
(4) Trisha Torrey says:

To That Guy:

Did you read this post? While many of your objections have merit, that’s not what this post was about….

What I fault the hospital for is that they swept the problem under the rug in hopes that no one would ever hear anything about it. They broke the law in doing so. But the bigger deal is that they took NO steps (until the incident was brought to light by the media) to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.

When I was a kid, my parents taught me that when you make a mistake, you own up. You take responsibility, you apologize when appropriate, then you make amends. Part of making amends is to do whatever it takes to make sure you don’t make the same mistake again.

The safest hospitals in the world approach their work in the same way. They recognize that owning up to mistakes and figuring out what went wrong, then taking steps to make sure those mistakes can’t happen again, are the ways to improve the safety of their patients.

St. Joes screwed up BIG time by trying to cover up this incident. And it must have bothered someone enough that they took it to the press. Who knows – maybe it was a family member who blew them in? Or perhaps one of the nurses who insisted the patient was still alive when those over-eager surgeons wanted to harvest the patient’s organs?

That Guy – you are right that there was a lot that went wrong, or seems out-of-whack on the periphery of this story.

But remember that NONE of that would have taken place had St. Joes done what they were legally expected to do – report the error.

And THAT is what this post is about.

Trisha Torrey

July 11, 2013 at 3:45 pm
(5) Peggy Zuckerman says:

Obviously there are plenty of errors to be analyzed and corrected here, but the one that really shocked me is that the patient was in a coma, and given sedatives. Can this possibly be justified medically?

Too often there are mistakes noted by others in these situations, but they fail to report them out of fear for repercussions, or the party receiving the report fails to act. Thus the related parties all become entangled in the wrong doing, or the simple honest mistake, which sets a tone for more errors to be made, and more to be covered up.

The recent crash landing at San Francisco airport may well be shown to be due to some misplaced fear of reporting errors being made upon landing–quite an ironic symbol as we hear of airline safety procedures being a model of safety procedures in the medical world. Such procedures, well-established and valid, must be followed, or disaster does.

July 11, 2013 at 8:53 pm
(6) gemdiamondintherough says:

In reply to That Guy – How do you sue someone if you do not have the money???????????? I realize that some pro bono work is done by some lawyers, but in reality, if you do not have the resources, you are unable to fight for justice. In theory this all sounds great, in reality it is much more difficult, if not impossible.

July 22, 2013 at 1:14 pm
(7) L says:

Saying “Give the gift of life” drives people to their emotions.
Though often well -intended, some people believe it ‘s senseless to go through medically-heroic extents to keep people alive.

I recently was in the ER due to severe flu symptoms. I was approached about a “proxy” which asked me if I wanted my organs donated should I die. The process was way too informal and bland for the big decision it is. The wording on the paperwork was not too clear .

It is a very under-regulated process.

I often participate in paid clinical trials. When I sign up to allow myself to be dosed with medication, I first have go through “informed consent” meaning I am told in writing that I will be paid a certain amount of money as compensation.
If any “products ” taken from the volunteer (blood, saliva , etc) are to be used to develop new medications or therapies (etc) , an informed-consent form must state that the pharmaceutical company or laboratory will make money that the volunteer has no right to claim royalties on.

It seems that when a person signs his or her organs over s/he should be told that only his/her part in agreeing to have his or her organs donated, is entirely voluntary and not to be done for profit.

The doctor or hospital however, will benefit monetarily.

I would have so much to say about this that I would not know where to begin.




July 22, 2013 at 2:05 pm
(8) L says:

“Peggy Zuckerman”
I don’t know if my original comment was posted. I don’t see it. I don’t know if this one will be posted, but from what I heard, it is common for doctors to give “medications” to a dead person whose organs are to be taken out. There is a book that tells about that.


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