Think you know what “dead” is? And that monkeys have tails, but people don’t? Think again.
What it means to be alive and the definition of “human body parts” is actually a lot more flexible than we think, even if Halloween IS over.
Check out these two real-life tales of the medically unbelievable.
1) Waking Up When They’re About to Take Her Organs Out: the Colleen Burns Horror Story
In 2009, a New York woman, who has sadly since committed suicide, was found in a drug-induced coma with empty bottles of drugs surrounding her. She’d maxed out on Xanax, a drug used to treat anxiety disorders, Benadryl, a muscle relaxant and an anti-inflammatory all at once.
And while her wish to harm herself is both tragic and heartbreaking, at that time she survived an amazing event.
Here’s how it happened:
When she was found, she was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, N.Y.
There, doctors examined her and declared her dead as she was unresponsive. She was then placed on an operating table to remove her organs for transplant. (Her paperwork indicated she had consented to this.)
And this is when she woke up.
Imagine the surprise! Somehow doctors had made a mistake and diagnosed the woman with irreversible brain damage, even while nurses noted that she had curled her toes when touched, flared her nostrils and could move her tongue and mouth. Big mistake. (I know, it sounds impossible, but it’s true).
But why did they do this? Why would trained professionals mistake someone for dead?
Maybe the medical staff was in a rush, tired, judgmental, who knows. Thank goodness they didn’t go ahead. But it could have been because this woman was a great candidate for organ donation. And in the doctors’ heads, maybe she had been placed under the relatively rare category of becoming a ‘beating heart corpse’.
Beating heart corpses are the bodies of people who have died, but inside the heart keeps on pumping.
So, even though this woman from New York had a heart that was working, doctors knew that this didn’t necessarily mean that she was alive, (although, in her case, she actually WAS).
Her brain was showing no signs of activity, and so they thought she was dead. In a beating heart corpse the brain has nothing going on, and even the brainstem at the base of the brain that controls essential bodily functions like breathing, has stopped.
But other organs can keep right on working.
Quite astoundingly, for some cases found by Shewmon, the heart kept beating for 14 years, and other organs also kept on working. One body somehow even managed to keep on trucking for 20 years. (!!)
And so, it can sort of be understood how doctors in Syracuse made the wrong decision.
Thankfully, reports indicate that it’s unlikely the New York woman would have actually undergone surgery to remove her organs. Doctors were going to conduct further tests on her to see if she was truly dead, before digging in.
But, wow! Looks like finding the definition of death is a lot more complicated than you’d ever think.
And now for something completely different….
2) This Boy Had a Tail- Yes, For Real
It sounds like something from an old fashioned circus, but it’s not. Recently, a boy in India grew what doctors think is the longest human tail on record, before having it removed at the age of 14.
His tail was the result of a genetic defect that is usually corrected within a few months after a baby is born. But in this case, unfortunately, it wasn’t. The boy’s parents were afraid of the stigma the strange deformity could bring to the family if it was publicized and furthermore, some around them considered the mysterious tail to be a sign of godliness.
The boy has had the tail removed and is now on his way to leading a normal adolescent life. And reports say he is happy that people have stopped praying to him.
Nature is certainly a wild and wonderful place.