Mississippi organ donor lawsuit chilling tale of aggressive harvesting

Published 9:31 am Thursday, November 2, 2023

By Wyatt Emmerich
Northside Sun

A reader made me aware of a recent lawsuit that should run chills up and down your spine. It involves overly zealous organ donation procurement right here in Jackson.

The case is the Estate of Paula Denison versus the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency (and other defendants.) It was filed in Lauderdale County circuit court earlier this year.

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The lawsuit (which represents just one side of the story) alleges that Paula Denison arrived by ambulance at Meridian’s Anderson Regional Medical Center in mid afternoon.

The lawsuit states: “On March 17, 2022, at approximately 2:52 p.m., Paula Denison presented via ambulance to Defendant Anderson Regional Medical Center’s (“Anderson’s”) emergency department, complaining of a history of headache and altered mental status. As the Anderson representative noted on the intake form, Ms. Denison was uninsured.”

According to the lawsuit, Denison was intubated and a CT scan done.

“Among other findings, (the physician’s) CT report reflects observations of tonsillar herniation, severe vasogenic edema of both cerebellar hemispheres, suspected vasogenic edema, a possible mass, suspected edema within the brainstem, and possible causes of the vasogenic edema including metastatic foci, multiple septic emboli, or multiple areas of cerebritis or encephalitis.

“(A physician) determined that Ms. Denison was brain dead, and advised her family that she was brain dead. At 4:46 p.m., a nurse assigned by Anderson to provide care to Ms. Denison contacted Defendant Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency (“MORA”) for purposes of having MORA send a representative to Anderson to procure Ms. Denison’s organs, tissue, eyes, and bones.”

So less than two hours after arriving at the hospital with a headache and altered mental state, Paula Denison’s family was told she was brain dead and was being prepped for organ harvesting. That’s quick. Yet she had not been legally declared dead by a physician in accordance to Mississippi law.

That happened at 6:51 that night, according to the lawsuit.

By 2 a.m. the next day, the lawsuit states, “Ms. Denison received various medical treatments and procedures, including laboratory testing of her blood and urine, culturing of blood and sputum samples, fluid administration, medication administration, vital sign monitoring, and surgical procedures. The surgical procedures included incising Ms. Denison’s abdomen and obtaining biopsies of her liver to test for acceptable organ donation.

On March 18, 2022, a MORA Organ Placement Coordinator attempted to place Ms. Denison’s liver and kidneys, and found matching potential recipients for Ms. Denison’s liver and kidneys.”

Here’s where it gets scary. The lawsuit states, “Notwithstanding continued increasing levels of medication administration, Ms. Denison continued to improve neurologically, and was exhibiting reactive pupils, spontaneous respirations, opening of her mouth wide to gag when suctioned, physically flexing and moving in response to painful stimuli, and physiologically reacting to pain by exhibiting reactive changes in her blood pressure and heart rate.

“Prior to March 19, 2022 at 10:16 a.m., MORA determined that Ms. Denison was not an acceptable organ donor, because she “did not meet neurologic criteria”, i.e., she was not dead.”

The lawsuit states that once MORA determined Denison was not dead, MORA then discharged Denison from MORA and had her transported back to Anderson hospital in Meridian by ambulance, two days after she was first declared dead. She died days later.

Of course, a lawsuit represents just one side of the story. It will be interesting to see how this case proceeds. Nevertheless, the prospect of overly enthusiastic organ harvesters sends a chill down my spine, especially since my driver’s license lists me as an organ donor.

This scary incident comes at a time when Congress has been investigating the monopolistic organ donation system in the U. S. for fraud, waste and abuse.