Just a day after Betty Harris left her husband Bryant at a Texas rehabilitation center, she received a call from a nearby hospital informing her — mistakenly — that he was dead.
Harris saw her husband on March 7 at Deerbrook Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation center, where he was recovering after knee surgery. Then, on March 8, she received a shocking phone call from Memorial Hermann Hospital in Humble, she recounted to Houston NBC affiliate KPRC.
She answered a call from the hospital and said the person on the line told her, "'It’s about your husband.’ I said, ‘My husband was in a rehabilitation.' He said 'No, your husband is at the emergency room,'" Harris told KPRC.
Harris was told that her husband stopped breathing. "I said, 'What’s wrong? Is he alright?' He said 'No, he’s dead,'" she recalled.
She was immediately distraught and confused, so she called her loved ones. "She was screaming and hollering," Harris' friend Cheryl Baker recalled. "I knew something was wrong. I just said, 'Hey, catch your breath, what's going on?' She said, 'Bryant is dead.'"
But when Harris went to identify the body at the hospital, she was surprised to find that it wasn't her husband. "I was very upset," she said.
Eventually, Harris learned that the mix-up started at the rehabilitation center where her husband was staying. There, while rushing a man to the emergency room, someone mistakenly passed along her husband's paperwork instead.
Harris understood that it "was probably a mistake," she said. "But it was just so horrifying."
The rehabilitation center responded to KPRC with a statement: "At Deerbrook Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation our patient’s health and safety remain are our number one priority. We strive to deliver high-quality care every day with compassionate nursing and caregiving staff," the statement said. "Regrettably, our team transferred a patient to the hospital with incorrect identifying paperwork. We have communicated with the hospital and families involved to address this situation and are truly sorry for our mistake."
Memorial Hermann Hospital told KPRC that it couldn't comment on the case due to privacy laws.
But the traumatic mix-up left its mark on Harris. "It's still affecting me," she said. "Every now and then, I think about it."