Dissected Alive: The Case of Colleen S. Burns in Historical Perspective

M0008887 An aged anatomist selecting his dissection instrument whilstOn Sunday, The Post-Standard reported a story that could have come straight from the script of a horror movie. In October 2009, Colleen Burns was admitted to St Joseph’s Hospital Center in New York for a drug overdose. A short time later, a team of doctors pronounced the 39-year-old woman dead. Her family was notified and Burns’s body was prepped for organ donation.

The only problem was: Burns wasn’t actually dead. She was in a drug-induced coma. Fortunately for her, she woke minutes before the first incision was made.

Read the full article on the Huffington Post

12 comments on “Dissected Alive: The Case of Colleen S. Burns in Historical Perspective

  1. Sue Hickey says:

    If you want to hear about people being dissected alive, Lindsey, here’s one for the Chiurgeon’s web site! Google Unit 731. It’s a horror of World War II committed by the Japanese that few know about. Chinese, Koreans and some Westerners were taken to biological warfare experiment camps. The horrors were enough to make Mengele blush!

  2. ddeclaire says:

    Oops I didn’t realize this is a hallowe’en site. Sorry! You’re partly right… I didn’t read your “about” before commenting.

  3. ddeclaire says:

    Society’s mores influenced her mother’s trust in the doctors. The doctors judged her daughter worth more as parts ergo, the mother and by extension Colleen were judged and sentenced by society’s mores. We should not blindly trust doctors no matter how much we are assured by society… you? (All due respects to you). What do you think happened?

    • altheapreston says:

      I think what happened is what happens a lot. I worked in a hospital until I was no longer physically able to lift the patients. The patients I worked with were critical care and step-down patients. People who were so sick, sometimes when you went into their room, you wondered if they were still breathing or if it was only the pacemaker that kept their heart going but they were gone.

      Medicine makes mistakes. That’s why the phrase is “practicing,” but that’s sort of an inside joke. However, it’s true in so many ways. Show me a person who is not fallible and they should be the ones ‘practicing’ medicine. And anyone who believes their doctor isn’t fallible, or has a blind faith in their doctor is just that. Blind. Events conspire, people miss things and sometimes, the unfortunate happens.

      Lindsey’s example of Colleen Burns wasn’t meant as a comment on society as much as to show that in the thousand plus years man has been practicing medicine and as far as we’ve come and with as much technology as we have, accidents/mistakes/call-them-what-you-will still happen. You simply cannot blame society for that and to claim that society IS responsible is a huge disservice to all of us.

  4. ddeclaire says:

    It wasn’t a mistake. Colleen Burns was already judged by our society as a worthless human entity– and not to be helped– but worth a lot as spare parts so designated for quartering. Isn’t this what the advertizing tells us makes this kind of thing okay in our Christian-root culture?

    • nightsmusic says:

      Wait a minute. Her FAMILY donated her for harvesting. Did the hospital fall short in their diagnosis? Yes, but that has nothing to do with your statement that society’s mores had already judged her worthless and not to be helped. Perhaps if you’d read the entire article, you’d have realized that before making such a broad statement that doesn’t apply here.

  5. altheapreston says:

    I’ll do that. I didn’t want to ask about mom there though. But you made me laugh with the last sentence! Good for her. I’m so glad she’s not one who thinks that breasts are what define us.

    • Quite the opposite! She was glad to be rid of those extra 6 pounds ;-) No more back pain and bad posture! And she actually looks younger and fitter now without them.

      Jokes aside though – it was a traumatic recovery as she got a really bad infection that the surgeon neglected till it became an abscess. But we survived and the word “cancer” now seems a lot less scarier in our family. It doesn’t have to be a death sentence. And I’m a lot more educated now about early detection.

      • altheapreston says:

        I’m so sorry to hear about the infection and all. My BFF’s mother experienced something similar. It was very hard to go through.

        I am glad you’re diligent though. My first surgery for “questionable, almond sized lumps” which were actually pre-cancerous tumors was when I was nineteen. That was a lifetime ago now, but I’ve gone diligently every year since then. They’ve caught a lot of things that could have been a lot worse so yes, make sure you go regularly. You’re young, but I believe you’re never too young to start.

  6. altheapreston says:

    Great article. You write the best subjects. And how scary is that? Even in this day, the possibility for that kind of mistake exists.

    nightsmusic (nm)

    PS How’s mom?

    • Thanks! You’re so kind. If you could, I’d love for you to comment on the Huffington Post piece directly – it helps build my blog ratings for future posts. This one made the front page of “Weird News” so I was pretty pleased!

      My mom is doing great, thank you for remembering. She’s cancer-free and in good health. Also enjoys not having breasts anymore!

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