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CNN Live Event/Special
25 Shocking Medical Mistakes
Aired June 09, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From forgotten tools and an operation on the wrong side.
JESSE MATLOCK, VICTIM: They messed up and did this side and then did this side.
COHEN: To tests that cause bald spots.
DONALD BIGGLES, VICTIM: Hair loss. I had a perfect ring around my head.
COHEN: And metal deadly close to a magnet. We're counting down my list of "25 SHOCKING MEDICAL MISTAKES."
DR. ALBERT WU, INTERNAL MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: Mistakes are happening every day in every hospital in the country that we're just not catching.
DR. PETER PRONOVOST, PATIENT SAFETY EXPERT: It's the second or third leading cause of death in this country. And for the most part we're silent on it.
COHEN: What you can do to not become a victim.
(On camera): I'm Elizabeth Cohen. I'll show you how to become an empowered patient.
(Voice-over): With the help of world-renowned patient safety expert Dr. Peter Pernovost, American Cancer Society chief medical officer Dr. Otis Brawley, acclaimed medical fiction author, Dr. Abraham Verghese, and more.
Stay tuned. This hour could save your life.
At number 25, baby security breach. The woman in this surveillance video, Jennifer Latham, tells her family she's expecting a baby when really she isn't. So she decides to steal one.
Take a look as she changes into nursing scrubs, enters a baby's room, comes out with a bag under her arm. A baby is in that bag. The impostor nurse actually gets off the premises with the child, despite an alarm on the baby.
CHIEF BRIAN TOOLEY, SANFORD, FLORIDA, POLICE DEPARTMENT: The alarm went off as it was supposed to. The woman just managed to get out the door.
COHEN: The baby is gone, missing, for almost 2 1/2 hours. Until a police officer spots the getaway car and pulls the baby snatcher over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a newborn that you have back there.
COHEN: Listen as Jennifer lies to the officer, telling him the baby in the car is hers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You gave birth? Today?
JENNIFER LATHAM, BABY SNATCHER: No. Yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday?
COHEN: This cop isn't buying any of it. Jennifer Latham is arrested, and the baby is returned safely back to mom and dad by ambulance.
(On camera): What kind of person would want to steal a baby?
DR. LILLIAM SHAPIRO, PEDIATRICIAN: Most people who steal babies actually want that baby for themselves. And hospitals are a great place to get babies.
COHEN: Since 1983, 130 babies have been abducted from U.S. health care facilities.
(On camera): Make sure your eyes or a real nurse's eyes are on your baby at all times in the hospital because every so often a baby snatcher is eyeing them, too.
(Voice-over): At number 24, fake doctors.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, ACTOR: I don't want to lie to you anymore. All right? I'm not a doctor. I never went to medical school.
COHEN: Like Amy Adams' character in "Catch Me If You Can," Tammi Perteet thinks she marries a physician.
TAMMI PERTEET, WIFE: Every morning I would drop him off at the hospital.
COHEN: Until her husband, Eric, pleads guilty to impersonating one.
PERTEET: I was told that at the time he was arrested he and a nurse were taking a patient from the emergency room into the intensive care unit.
COHEN: The hospital says he escapes notice by wearing scrubs and a real doctor's I.D. badge.
CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST: Anyone who fakes being a medical doctor is fundamentally a con artist or a scammer. Incredible medical mistakes have been made by these fake physicians.
COHEN: This man, Arthur Copes, also turns out not to be a doctor.
JORDAN: He advertised extensively on Web sites, saying that he could straighten out the most crooked of spines.
COHEN: Sarafina Gerling sees the ads. She thinks Copes is a doctor who can correct her scoliosis. She wears Copes's brace for six months, and her curves get even worse.
SARAFINA GERLING, VICTIM: I'm extremely worse. And I'm in an extreme amount of pain.
JORDAN: The people who will fall for these fake doctors usually are extremely vulnerable. It is that persona, that ability to gain a patient's trust, that respect, that white coat, and that ability to smile and get that person to talk to them and trust them that allows the fraud to continue.
COHEN: The Federation of State Medical Boards lists hundreds of impostors who've masqueraded as doctors in America.
DECAPRIO: Miss Mace.
COHEN (on camera): Unless it's Leonardo DiCaprio examining you, go online and make sure your doctor is a licensed physician in your state.
(Voice-over): At number 23, treating the wrong patient.
Carrie Higuera is bleeding three months into her pregnancy. She fears she's about to lose her unborn baby to a miscarriage. She's waiting in a hospital room when a nurse comes in and asks if her name is Carrie. Carrie says yes and follows the nurse to a CT scan room. The nurse tells Carrie a doctor wants a scan of her abdomen, and they give her the scan, even though Carrie is three months pregnant.
DR. REBECCA SMITH-BINDMAN, RADIOLOGIST: If you're radiating the abdomen, by definition the baby is going to be in the field of radiation and the baby's going to get radiated.
COHEN: That CT scan is a mistake. The hospital has confused Carrie with another patient named Carrie.
SMITH-BINDMAN: The scan on the pregnant woman will increase the risk that that child will get leukemia. At that early stage in gestation the fetus is also at risk of getting birth defects.
COHEN: Fortunately, Carrie's son Nathan is doing just fine.
(On camera): How do they confuse patients?
PRONOVOST: It often happens with people who have similar names. So especially for common names, Jane Smith, there may be two or three Jane Smiths on a common hospital floor. COHEN: Before every procedure in the hospital make sure the staff checks your entire name, your date of birth, and the bar code on your wristband.
At number 22, pharmacy faux pas.
Mareena Silva is six weeks pregnant. She picks up a prescription for antibiotics at the pharmacy. She takes the medicine. And then sees the label is wrong.
MAREENA SILVA, VICTIM: I came back and I looked at the bottle, and it wasn't my name.
COHEN: The pharmacy has given Mareena prescription meant for another woman who has the same last name and a similar first name. The medicine isn't an antibiotic. It's actually methatrexate, a drug that has the potential to terminate pregnancies.
IRA KATZ, PHARMACIST: You never, ever want to give a drug like that to a pregnant patient.
SILVA: This is my first child. So it's really difficult to deal with. Maybe we could have deformities. There's a lot that goes with it.
KATZ: Things get hectic behind the prescription counter. An onslaught of phones ringing, messages, patients coming in. Pharmacists pull medications from the shelves. You might say pull the wrong drug, the wrong strength. We're dealing with a dangerous situation. We don't want to take the wrong medication.
COHEN: At neighborhood pharmacies every year 30 million prescriptions are dispensed improperly.
(On camera): When you're at the pharmacy, open the package and show the medicine to the pharmacist to make sure it's right and make sure your name is on the label.
(Voice-over): At number 21, botched plastic surgery.
Marilyn Leisz wants to look a little younger. But after eyelid surgery she's unable to fully close her eyes.
MARILYN LEISZ, VICTIM: That's how it is every day, 24/7, 365 days a year.
COHEN: Living with a mistake is bad enough.
(On camera): Can you die from a plastic surgery?
DR. LINDA LI, PLASTIC SURGEON: Absolutely, it is possible to die from plastic surgery. We've seen it happen.
COHEN (voice-over): Take the case of this beauty queen. Argentinean model Solange Magnano wants a bigger butt.
(On camera): Why would a woman want a bigger butt?
LI: There are men out there who like big butts. We are a culture that wants to feel attractive. And if that's what makes us feel more attractive, then they want a bigger butt.
COHEN (voice-over): The beauty queen goes in for the operation and then dies five days later.
Here's where some experts think the surgery goes wrong. Whatever doctors inject into her butt to make it bigger, fat, silicone, or something else, a piece of it breaks off, tears through the bloodstream, then lodges in her lungs. Without blood flow to her lungs, Solange struggles to breathe. It's called a pulmonary embolism.
(On camera): Death is a crazy price to pay for beauty. So make sure your surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic surgery.
(Voice-over): At number 20, dosage disasters. Movie star Dennis Quaid's twins, Thomas and Zoe, develop an infection a few days after they're born. The Quaids take the babies to the hospital for a course of antibiotics. A blood thinner called heparin is used to prepare their IVs.
DR. LEIGH VINOCUR, EMERGENCY CARE PHYSICIAN: When you have an IV, there's a very, very, very dilute dose that they'll put a minuscule amount in the IV so that the IV doesn't clot up.
COHEN: When the babies get the IV, their blood unexpectedly turns thin as water.
DENNIS QUAD, THOMAS AND ZOE'S FATHER: At one point as the doctors tried to clamp a bleeding wound in the remnant of T-Boon's umbilical cord, blood spurt six feet across the room and splattered on the wall.
COHEN: Doctors realized someone has given the babies a massive overdose of heparin. A thousand times more than it's supposed to be.
WU: They didn't notice that it was the wrong dose.
COHEN: Here's how that overdose happens.
WU: The adult dose was in a dark blue vial. The pediatric dose was in a light blue vial.
COHEN: A technician accidentally puts the adult dose of heparin in the location where the children's dose is usually stored. Then a nurse grabs the bottle without checking it.
QUAID: And our babies could have died that night.
COHEN: Thankfully, doctors managed to control the bleeding, and the twins make a full recovery.
Workers stocking medication drawers make mistakes about 4 percent of the time.
(On camera): When you're in the hospital, ask for a daily list of medications and dosages and check them when they arrive.
(Voice-over): Ahead on my list, you won't believe where this patient ends up after brain surgery. And tools left and forgotten in the worst place possible.
COHEN: We've already seen some bad medicine, counting down our "25 SHOCKING MEDICAL MISTAKES."
Dosage disasters came in at number 20.
(Voice-over): At number 19, toxic transplants.
Joshua Hightower needs a new kidney. He's on a list waiting his turn for the life-saving organ. A potential donor dies. Joshua gets one of the man's kidneys and then suddenly, instead of getting better, he gets sicker.
JENNIFER HIGHTOWER, JOSHUA'S MOTHER: He was throwing up, headaches, had the shakes real bad. Sleeping a lot.
COHEN: Within months Joshua is dead, at age 18. A doctor tells his mother he died of rabies.
HIGHTOWER: And I said, what do you mean rabies? Like some foreign branch of rabies? Or some kind that is, you know, uncommon or rare? And he -- I said or the kind that you vaccinate your dog every year for? And he said, Jennifer, the kind you vaccinate your dog every year for.
COHEN: And just how does this teenager get rabies, a virus that's spread by animals? That new kidney he gets is infected with rabies before it even gets inside his body.
Here's how it happens. The organ donor has been bitten by a bat, but no one knows it. The virus spreads through the bloodstream.
DR. LLOYD RATNER, TRANSPLANT SURGEON: No one suspected that this person had rabies. All the organs were transplanted. And all the recipients contracted rabies.
COHEN: Only later did doctors realize the donor had all the symptoms of rabies from the beginning and they never should have used his organs.
RATNER: There's thousands and thousands of potential pathogens out there that organ donors could be infected with. Rabies is so uncommon the screening tests for rabies are not universally available.
COHEN: In the U.S. more than 100 people have been victims of similar toxic transplants. (On camera): After a transplant if you get sicker instead of better ask if the other recipients from the same donor are also sick. Early treatment could save your life.
(Voice-over): At number 18 dumb discharge.
James Absten undergoes brain surgery. He goes back to the hospital for more testing. The staples are still fresh in his head when the staff packs him off alone in a taxicab.
DR. OTIS BRAWLEY, ONCOLOGIST: Most patients who are being discharged from the hospital should not be going home alone in a taxicab.
COHEN: James is so disoriented he doesn't know his own address.
JAMES ABSTEN, VICTIM: I was -- I was confused.
COHEN: Strangers find him asking for help after the taxi drops him off in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
JOSH SKILTON: He was in the hospital gown, in only socks. It was wet, raining, cold out. He had bandages and staples in his head still from his surgeries.
COHEN: These Good Samaritans help James get home after his careless release.
(On camera): A lot of people feel woozy when they leave the hospital. So make sure you have a ride home from someone who knows where you live.
(Voice-over): At number 17, ambulance errors.
A lot can go wrong on the way to the hospital. Darlene Dukes is struggling to breathe. She calls 911 and tells the operator where she is.
DARLENE DUKES, VICTIM: 602 Wales Drive.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: 602 Wales Drive?
COHEN: Instead of dispatching an ambulance to Wales Drive, the dispatcher sends paramedics to Wells Street, W-E-L-L-S, 27 miles away from Darlene. Darlene dies from a blood clot, police say. After an ambulance takes more than 45 minutes to find her.
JOHN KACHMAR: Very, very critical amount of time in terms of the response time necessary to save somebody's life.
COHEN (on camera): When you call 911, slowly say and spell out the name of the street address.
(Voice-over): At number 16, lost patients. Nursing home patient Mary Cole turns up missing during a bed check. Finding her becomes a manhunt. Noted on her missing person poster, she suffers from Alzheimer's disease and maybe disoriented. Her daughter, Tammy Terry, clings to hope and joins the search.
TAMMY TERRY, MARY'S DAUGHTER: We're out from morning until pitch dark.
COHEN: Four days go by until Mary is finally found inside the nursing home, locked in a storage closet.
TERRY: I believed and trusted them when they said we searched every room, every nook and cranny, we moved furniture, and it was a lie.
COHEN: Mary is severely dehydrated and dies soon after. The family's lawyer says Mary wandered into that closet and got trapped.
TERRY: My mom suffered for four day days. And there's no excuse for it.
COHEN: One in five nursing home patients is prone to wandering.
(On camera): If your loved one sometimes wanders, consider getting them a GPS bracelet that tracks their every move.
(Voice-over): At number 15, surgical souvenirs.
Nelson Bailey comes out of surgery with a sponge left in his abdomen, a foot long by a foot long.
NELSON BAILEY, VICTIM: When they opened me up, the medical report shows that it was rotting. It created perforations in my intestines.
COHEN: Here's how a sponge can get left behind by mistake.
PRONOVOST: There is often blood, there's tissue. It's very difficult to see. And sometimes sponges are tucked under an organ inside you that they're not in clear view but they're soaking up some fluid or blood.
COHEN: Take a look at this similar mistake. That's a six-inch clamp. And this is a 13-inch retractor. Nurses are supposed to keep track of how many tools go inside you and make sure the same number come out.
PRONOVOST: Sometimes the initial count going in is wrong. Their count going out is wrong. And mistakes happen.
COHEN: Something gets left behind in as many as 2 out of every 10,000 surgeries.
(On camera): If you have unexpected fever, pain, or swelling after surgery, ask if you might have a surgical memento buried within. (Voice-over): Ahead on my list, air keeps us alive. So how does it kill this young man? And a mix-up at the maternity ward that leaves moms bonding with the wrong baby.
COHEN (on camera): The health care harm is stacking up as we count down our "25 SHOCKING MEDICAL MISTAKES." Surgical souvenirs came in at number 15.
(Voice-over): At number 14, baby switcheroos.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come here, sweetie. Oh, my god.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wrong baby.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wrong baby.
COHEN: Like Pam from "The Office," Monica Garcia is the victim of a baby mix-up. She gives birth to her son Marcelino. In the nursery he needs to eat, and a hospital worker hands the baby over to a stranger with the same last name. The wrong mother breastfeeds Monica's baby.
MONICA GARCIA, MOTHER: It's hard for me to accept that, you know, my child has been with somebody that I don't even know.
COHEN (on camera): I'd like to think that I would know if someone brought me a baby that wasn't mine.
SHAPIRO: You might and you might not. Most babies look pretty similar. They're all kind of just cute little cheeky things and they're not that easy to distinguish one from the other, especially if you've only seen it once or twice.
COHEN: So even a loving mother might confuse one baby for another baby?
SHAPIRO: Right. A loving mother will love the baby that she is brought.
COHEN: When a nurse hands you your baby, ask the nurse to match your baby's I.D. band with yours.
(Voice-over): At number 13, air bubbles in blood. After weeks in the hospital 19-year-old Blake Fought is excited to be going home. But before he can leave Blake has one more thing to do. Have a tube in his chest removed. While he's sitting upright, a nurse removes the tube and then seals it with gauze.
DR. AMY FOUGHT, INTERNAL MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: You could hear popping from the central line site, and it was just -- that's called a sucking wound. And what it was doing was sucking air right into the vessels.
COHEN: It's called an air embolism. And that air is killing Blake.
FOUGHT: The air was cutting off the blood supply to his lungs and to his heart, to his kidneys, and to his brain.
COHEN: The nurses failed to follow basic rules on removing a chest tube. Blake should have been lying down, and the nurse should have sealed the hole airtight with Vaseline.
This doctor is Blake's mother. She's only a medical student at the time of the mistake and doesn't know how to stop it. She begs the staff to do something, but no one calls for a doctor until it's too late.
FOUGHT: We went from planning a surprise party to planning a funeral. The most heart-wrenching thing I had to do was to go and wake my daughter up and tell her that her brother was not coming home eve ever. And I just -- it was most -- it was horrible.
COHEN: While there's no national figure for tube errors, you should know a report looking at just one hospital's ICU finds improperly removed tubes cause 10 air embolisms a year.
(On camera): If you have a chest tube, ask how you should be positioned when the tube is taken out.
(Voice-over): At number 12, misdiagnosed.
Morgan McCracken gets socked in the head with a baseball. Mom and dad ice the bump down. The 7-year-old seems fine. Until two nights later, when she cries out for help.
CONNIE MCCRACKEN, MORGAN'S MOTHER: "Mom, mom, my head. It's hurting." she was holding it. Saying, "My head's hurting. My head's hurting."
COHEN: The McCrackens rush Morgan to the emergency room.
C. MCCRACKEN: We couldn't get to the hospital fast enough.
DON MCCRACKEN, MORGAN'S FATHER: I carried her in. She was too lethargic to walk.
COHEN: A doctor says don't worry.
C. MCCRACKEN: I'm sure it's late, she's tired, she probably has a touch of the flu.
COHEN: A gut feeling tells these parents the doctor has Morgan's diagnosis wrong.
C. MCCRACKEN: This wasn't our Morgan. She's had the flu before. And this wasn't how she acted.
COHEN: They ask for a CT scan of her head, but the doctor won't listen.
(On camera): What is the consequence of a doctor not listening to you?
DR. ABRAHAM VERGHESE, MEDICAL FICTION AUTHOR: They're failing to hear the first manifestation of a life-threatening illness, and they're failing to register and therefore look on your body for the first clues of that and begin to order the right tests.
COHEN (voice-over): After hours of begging the doctor finally does listen and orders the CT scan. Here's what he missed. A blood clots inside Morgan's skull. A surgery saves her life.
One out of every 10 diagnoses you receive from a doctor may be wrong.
(On camera): Like Morgan's parents you should trust your instincts. If a diagnosis doesn't sound right to you, get a second opinion.
(Voice-over): At number 11, transfusion confusion.
Blake Oliver feels sharp pain in his stomach. He goes to the hospital. He needs surgery and a blood transfusion. The new blood has to match his blood.
VINOCUR: Some people are O type blood. Some people are A type blood. Some people are B type blood. You can't transfuse the different types of blood into each other because your body interprets it as an invading bacteria.
COHEN: To know Blake's blood type his blood needs to be drawn and tested. Instead a mistake is made and all that testing is done on Blake's hospital roommate.
PATTI CANAKARIS, BLAKE'S SISTER: The roommate's blood being A- positive was labeled Blake Oliver and given to him transfused.
COHEN: The A-type blood mixes with Blake's O-type blood.
VINOCUR: It can cause the blood cells to rupture. And when they rupture they can clog up your organs. It can cause kidney failure. It's called the hemolytic reaction.
COHEN: That new blood kills Blake.
CANAKARIS: It was just the most awful, ridiculous scenario in that it could have been 100 percent prevented.
COHEN: Listen carefully. One out of every 19,000 units of blood given is a mismatch.
(On camera): Know your blood type so if you're getting blood you can check the bag to make sure it's a match.
(Voice-over): At number 10, getting burned. Paramjit Singh expects his heart bypass to go smoothly.
PARAMJIT SINGH, VICTIM: No big deal. I want to go home the same day.
COHEN: Monitoring cables are snaked through Paramjit's heart but the monitor malfunctions and the cables get so hot the inside of his heart is cooked. The damage irreparable. And Paramjit has to get a new heart.
Rocky Rockenback also gets burned in the hospital when doctors turn his throat into a blowtorch. Here's how it happens. During surgery a balloon is inflated in Rocky's throat to block anesthesia gases in his lungs from rising up. A surgeon's laser punctures a hole in the balloon. The gases flow into Rocky's throat. Instead of stopping the surgery the doctor continues. The laser's heat sparks the gases and fire explodes. Now rocky has to breathe with a plastic tube.
(On camera): How could a hospital burn a patient in a surgery?
BRAWLEY: These accidents usually occur because of multiple errors that occur in setting up for the operation. Because there's a lot of equipment that involves electricity, that involves the use of gases and other things that are flammable. These are terrible errors.
COHEN (voice-over): Six hundred and fifty surgical fires break out every year in U.S. operating rooms.
(On camera): Lasers and cables can generate a lot of heat. So ask if your surgery will use them and how you'll be protected.
Ahead on my list, we all know our left from our right. So how does this boy's surgeon get so confused?
And a routine test goes wrong and leaves patients partially bald.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon. Here are your headlines this hour.
A major financial crisis tonight in Spain. Spain's government will ask the European Union to bail out its banking system possibly to the tune of $125 billion. The cash injection is meant just for banks and is not a full bailout for the government.
There's good news here at home at the gas pump. Prices fell almost a full penny, marking the 24th straight day that it's gotten cheaper to fill up. A gallon now costs just under $3.55 on average. But you can still be jealous of drivers in South Carolina. They have the cheapest gas, 40 cents lower than the national average.
Horse racing fans will have to wait, well, one more year at least to see a thoroughbred win the Triple Crown. Union rags roared from behind to win the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes today. Paynter led for much of the race but ended up in second place. "I'll Have Another" won the Kentucky derby and Preakness and was honored today at a retirement ceremony but missed the race with an injury.
Those are your headlines this hour. I'm Don Lemon. Keeping you informed, CNN, the most trusted name in news.
COHEN (on camera): We've seen a baby get switched and a patient misdiagnosed, counting down our list of "25 SHOCKING MEDICAL MISTAKES." Getting burned came in at number 10.
(Voice-over): At number 9, look-alike tubes.
Alicia Coleman is born three months premature. A disease all but destroys her intestines. To keep her alive doctors insert a feeding tube into her stomach and a central line tube into her vein. One day Alicia's mom drops her off at a medical daycare center and heads to work.
DOMINIQUE COLEMAN, ALICIA'S MOTHER: I handed her over on Saturday at 8:17, and I got the call at 9:20 that her medication had been administered wrong.
COHEN: A central line tube and a feeding tube look a lot alike. The daycare center pumps medicine meant for Alicia's stomach into her vein. The medicine stops this toddler's heart, and she dies.
COLEMAN: I've never got -- she had to go through it alone. And I wasn't there.
COHEN (on camera): Is it easy to confuse tubes?
BRAWLEY: We should be very cautious. Unfortunately, people get rushed. People cut corners. And when that happens tragic things can happen.
COHEN (voice-over): Sixteen percent of doctors and nurses in a survey says tube mix-ups happen at their hospitals.
(On camera): So the lesson here is when you have tubes in you ask the staff to trace the tubes back to the point of origin so the right medicine goes to the right place.
(Voice-over): At number 8, biopsy blunder.
Something unusual turns up in 35-year-old Derry Eason's breast. Is it cancer? Doctors do a biopsy. Her diagnosis, positive. Invasive lobular carcinoma. This single mom has breast cancer. She gets a second opinion. Two more experts look at her lab work and agree.
Derry decides she has to be aggressive to save her life. She has surgery to remove both her breasts. And then weeks later a bombshell admission by her doctors.
DARRIE EASON, VICTIM: They told me basically you didn't have cancer and you never did. COHEN: What makes doctors think she's sick? That biopsy showing she has cancer actually belongs to someone else. A health department investigation says a lab technician is most likely working with two specimens at the same time. By mistake the worker takes another woman's tissue and puts it inside a container labeled with Darrie's identification.
EASON: Something should have been done to tell me that there wasn't anything wrong with me before I had a radical double mastectomy.
DR. RACHEL WELLNER, BREAST SURGEON: You make the diagnosis with a biopsy, and for sure there could be a domino or butterfly effect that occurs from having a mistake in that initial biopsy where everybody starts to make a decision based on that initial biopsy or error.
COHEN: One out of 1,000 lab specimens is mislabeled.
(On camera): If your surgeon, radiologist, and pathologists don't all agree on your biopsy results, ask if you should repeat the test or get another opinion.
(Voice-over): At number 7, having the wrong baby.
Caroline and Sean Savage want a baby after four miscarriages. They turn to a fertility lab for help. The couple thinks their embryos are placed in Caroline's uterus. Until 10 days later, when the lab calls with unbelievable news.
SEAN SAVAGE, VICTIM: We were pregnant but at the same time that they had transferred another couple's embryos to Caroline.
COHEN: The baby growing inside Caroline doesn't belong to her. It actually belongs to this woman, who has the same last name. Shannon Savage.
SHANNON SAVAGE-MORRELL, VICTIM: I'm thinking, this woman has got to be a basket case and then find out she's pregnant, oh, by the way, with somebody else's kid.
COHEN: Here's how the embryos wind up in the wrong womb. To locate where the frozen embryos are stored, a lab worker by mistake uses Shannon Savage's paperwork instead of Caroline Savage's. The worker pulls Shannon's embryos from a cryopreservation tank and places them on a Petri dish with the name "Savage" on it.
Nine months later, knowing she was having someone else's baby, Caroline gives birth to little Logan and then gives him up to his real parents.
SAVAGE-MORRELL: Can you say hello to everybody? Say hi? Hi?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To think that a woman carried someone else's baby, albeit by accident, to term and then had to hand that child over to that couple, not achieving her own pregnancy, first of all, she's an amazing woman. And secondly, it's a tragedy.
COHEN: Happily, Sean and Caroline recently had twins, Isabella and Reagan, with the help of a surrogate. Mistakes like this are exceedingly rare, but they do happen.
(On camera): Nine months in the wrong mom is no way to have a baby. So if you're getting fertility treatment, make sure the clinic is accredited by the College of American Pathologists.
(Voice-over): At number 6, operating on the wrong body part.
Jesse Matlock has a wandering right eye. The 3-year-old needs surgery to have it fixed. He goes in for the operation, and the surgeon cuts into the left eye instead of the right.
TASHA GAUL, JESSE'S MOTHER: My husband and I were in awe. We're like, can you repeat that again? And she said frankly, I lost sense of direction.
MATLOCK: They messed up and did this eye and then did this eye.
COHEN: Surgeons are supposed to initial or mark the correct side like they did with Jesse. But here's one way they can still get confused.
DR. G. BAKER HUBBARD, OPHTHALMOLOGIST: We place drapes over the entire area to keep it sterile. Mistakes can be made very rarely when you have draping that obscures the mark.
COHEN: In the U.S. seven patients every day suffer body part mix-ups.
(On camera): Just before surgery make sure you confirm with the nurse and the surgeon the correct body part and side of your operation and don't be shy about doing it.
(Voice-over): At number 5 radical radiation.
This isn't a bad haircut. It's the damage done by too much radiation. Michael Heuser goes in for a CT scan of his head. Clumps of hair fall out. Suzanne Sloan, same thing. And same for Donald Biggles.
BIGGLES: I had a perfect ring around my head.
COHEN: Here's how their hair falls out. The hospitals programmed the CT scanner wrong and repeatedly scanned these patients with monster doses of radiation. Michael gets eight times the allowable dose.
SMITH-BINDMAN: The well-publicized images we saw of patients who got CT scans of their brain who had hair loss in a very clear distribution, that was the area with a lot of repetitive imaging where the doses get up very high. Basically, the hair cells got destroyed by the radiation. COHEN: The fallout from that dangerously high amount of radiation wasn't just hair loss. Donald, Michael, and Suzanne have to worry that all that radiation could give them cancer.
(On camera): If possible, instead of a CT scan get an ultrasound or an MRI because they have no radiation at all.
(Voice-over): Still ahead on my list, metal and an MRI are a bad combination.
And an unbelievably long E.R. wait costs this toddler her limbs. The one call you can make to speed things up during an emergency.
COHEN (on camera): We've shown you flukes and blunders counting down "25 SHOCKING MEDICAL MISTAKES." Radical radiation made our list at number 5.
At number 4, infection infestation. Skydiver Josh Nahum parachutes to earth. The landing goes badly. Josh's leg breaks. His skull fractures. He's on the mend in the hospital when he catches an infection from the hospital.
VICTORIA NAHUM, JOSH'S STEPMOTHER: Nobody ever thinks that they're going to go into a hospital only to be made more ill.
COHEN: Doctors are powerless to fight the bacteria raging through Josh's body.
PRONOVOST: What we're seeing now, and it's really concerning, is there's a growing list of gram negative bacteria that are resistant to many if not most antibiotics. And we have no drugs to treat these patients with.
COHEN: Josh dies at 27.
Here's one way infections spread.
PRONOVOST: One patient may have an infection, and a nurse or a doctor is caring for both of them. I go in and I examine them or I touch them, and my hands get contaminated. I then don't wash my hands and go talk to the second patient or examine the second patient. And I introduce that infection into that second patient.
And in many senses we're no different than a mosquito causing malaria. We're, you know, a vector introducing harm rather than protecting patients.
COHEN: Another way, a needle pierces dirty skin.
PRONOVOST: Your skin is an amazing defense against bacteria. But when I break that skin, I allow bacteria to enter.
COHEN: Hospitals kill 100,000 people a year with these infections. (On camera): It may be uncomfortable to ask, but make sure doctors and nurses wash their hands before they touch you, even if they're wearing gloves.
(Voice-over): At number 3, metal in the MRI room.
Six-year-old Michael Columbini has brain cancer. He's getting an MRI.
SMITH-BINDMAN: An MRI machine is a very large, very, very powerful magnet.
COHEN: A hospital worker walks into the room carrying a metal oxygen tank. The oxygen tank flies out of the worker's hands, shoots across the room, strikes Michael in the head, and the little boy dies.
Take a look at this video researchers make after Michael's death. It shows just how fast that metal oxygen tank kills him. While this mistake is relatively unusual, reports to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reveal additional cases.
(On camera): When you're getting an MRI, make sure there's no metal on or around you.
(Voice-over): At number 2, the E.R. waiting game.
Two-year-old Malia Jeffers has a 101 degree fever. A bruise on her cheek the size of a marble. Trouble walking. Her parents rush her to the emergency room. A nurse says it's a virus and tells the family to wait. So they do. For nearly five hours.
Malia's fever climbs higher. Her bruise gets bigger. She can't even stand up. Mom and dad ask for help again and again, but the hospital says keep waiting until finally Malia's father barrels past the nurse's station into the E.R. and begs.
The real diagnosis? Shameful. A flesh-eating bacteria is rapidly spreading through the toddler's tiny body.
WU: Any break in the skin can occasionally become infected. If you're unlucky enough to be infected by a particularly virulent strain of bacteria and it gets into your bloodstream, it can kill you. Her liver failed, but every other major organ was probably also failing at the same time. They missed the fact that she was desperately ill.
COHEN: To save Malia's life doctors have to amputate her entire left hand, fingers on her right, and both her legs.
(On camera): Is it always obvious who should come first in an emergency room?
WU: You can't always tell when someone really needs to be seen right away and who can -- who could afford to sit and wait even if it ruins their day.
COHEN: E.R. wait times are longer than ever. You can expect to wait on average a grueling four hours and seven minutes.
(On camera): Here's a tip. Doctors listen to other doctors. So when you're on your way to the hospital, call your physician and ask them to call the emergency room so they know you're on your way and it's serious.
(Voice-over): Still ahead --
DIANA TODD, VICTIM: It just goes on and on. And you're screaming inside your head.
COHEN: The most shocking medical mistake on my list.
COHEN (on camera): We've seen doctors with dirty hands, a freak MRI accident, and now we're at the end of my list of "25 SHOCKING MEDICAL MISTAKES." The E.R. waiting game came in at number 2.
(Voice-over): And at a shocking number 1, waking up during surgery.
You go in, you go under. That's the way surgery is supposed to go. But it doesn't always happen that way.
TODD WHITLOCK, VICTIM: There It was a pain -- there was a pain that you cannot deal with.
TODD: It just goes on and on. And you're screaming inside your head.
COHEN: They're on the operating table, paralyzed, unable to move or speak. They feel every poke, every prod, every cut.
ERIN COOK, VICTIM: I just kept praying to god, please just let me out. Just let me out. Let somebody know that this hurts so bad.
COHEN: Their nightmare is called anesthesia awareness. Under anesthesia your muscles are paralyzed and your brain is unconscious. But without adequate anesthesia your brain can stay awake and aware while your muscles stay frozen.
An underdose of anesthesia can happen for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it's just a goof, a vaporizer gas tank gets disconnected or is empty.
DR. JOHN DOMBROWSKI, ANESTHESIOLOGIST: The physician has the vaporizer on thinking that they're providing anesthesia to the patient but they really are not. They are undergoing surgery with no anesthesia. Undergoing a surgical procedure with no anesthesia, I mean, that's not defendable.
COHEN: Anesthesia awareness happens to about one out of every 1,000 patients. Most are awake and aware but not in any pain.
(On camera): When you schedule surgery, ask your surgeon if you need to be asleep because sometimes numbing just the surgical site could work instead.
No good doctor ever means to hurt you. Doctors and nurses and everyone who takes care of us are just like us, human and make mistakes. Now you can help them get things right.
I'm Elizabeth Cohen, and I hope this hour makes you an "Empowered Patient."