Woman authorizes brother’s life support to be stopped, but it was the wrong man

A New York woman sat vigil for days at her dying brother’s hospital bedside, authorized doctors to stop life support and was arranging his funeral when officials revealed it had all been a big mistake.

The man wasn’t her brother at all, but a stranger with a similar name. Shirell Powell is now suing a Bronx hospital over the case of mistaken identity, saying she and other relatives were put through more than a month of unnecessary grief. “That is my baby brother, so it was really hurtful,” Powell told the New York Post. “I was worried, hurt, crying, screaming, calling everybody. It was a horrible feeling.”

Her actual brother, Frederick Williams, was alive, but unbeknownst to his family, he was locked up in a city jail. St Barnabas Hospital spokesman Steven Clark told the Post that the lawsuit was without merit. The mix-up began on July 15, according to Powell’s lawsuit, when Freddy Clarence Williams was admitted to the hospital unconscious with brain damage following a drug overdose. The hospital looked in its records, saw that a Frederick Williams had been treated before, and called his family, the suit said. But it was the wrong Fred Williams. Powell said when she visited the man she thought was her brother, he had a tube in his mouth and a swollen appearance. Another sibling arrived and raised doubts about whether some error had been made. She walked up into the room and said, “That is not my brother,” Powell said. But the man’s facial features were similar enough that the family decided it couldn’t be a mistake.

Powell authorized doctors to withdraw life support on July 29. The city’s medical examiner discovered the erroneous identification on August 16. “I nearly fainted because I killed somebody that I didn’t even know. I gave consent,” said Powell. The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for severe emotional harm.

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