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When White Coat Syndrome Isn’t Just Psychosomatic 

Have you ever heard of white coat syndrome?  It might sound a little silly, but white coat syndrome is high blood pressure that occurs only within the context of a doctor’s office typically because of anxiety related to visiting the doctor.  But sometimes things do go wrong at the doctor’s office or hospital.  Take, for example, one woman who awoke during a visit to the emergency room to find doctors mistakenly preparing to remove some of her organs.

Patient Mistakenly Pronounced Dead

Colleen S. Burns of Syracuse, NY was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital Center in October 2009 after suffering a drug overdose.  She was pronounced dead after arriving at the hospital, even after she responded to tests that showed she was likely still alive.  Although a nurse said that Burns was recovering from her overdose and a number of signs pointed to her still living, including responses to mandatory reflex tests, movement of her lips and mouth, and visible breathing without the use of a ventilator, doctors prepared to harvest her organs after placing a call to her family that she was dead.  Curiously, the doctors also gave the nurse orders to drug Burns with a powerful sedative, a seemingly unnecessary move if she was already presumed dead.

Woman Wakes Up Just in Time

Thankfully, Burns woke up just as doctors were about to cut her open and remove her organs.  The hospital was sanctioned for its actions and cited for a number of mistakes that put the patient’s health in danger.  Ironically, the hospital’s motto is “A Higher Level of Care” but the doctors involved in the incident never bothered to explain why the astonishing series of event occurred that nearly led to her death.  Although Burns fully recovered from the incident, she suffered from serious depression and addiction, and died as a result of suicide at age 41.  Tragic story of addiction aside, Burns’ experience highlights the serious problem of preventable medical errors, which are the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.  Currently, there is no centralized system to report such errors, leaving patients and their families with little recourse in the case of preventable medical errors.

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