The sudden death of Stanislaus County prosecutor Shawn Barlow last weekend left two families grieving.
One, of course, was Barlow's family. The other was his "family" at the district attorney's office and in the legal community.
But because of a mistake in Emanuel Medical Center's records, a second Barlow family was subjected to the shock and anguish of being told a loved one had died unexpectedly. Shaun (different spelling) Barlow is alive and well.
Emanuel spokeswoman Pennie Rorex said the hospital had somehow mixed up the next-of-kin contact information it gave the California Donor Network.
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That explains why Autumn Barlow Garcia, sister of 41-year-old construction worker Shaun Barlow of Waterford and no relation to the Shawn Barlow who died, received a middle-of-the- night phone call asking for permission to take her brother's organs to extend the lives of others.
What it doesn't explain is how the mistake happened in the first place, especially since Garcia's brother is alive and well.
Rorex said the hospital switched to different computer software in 2005, and the mistake was in the system at that point.
She said the error can't be traced beyond that time, but the hospital continues to investigate and is reviewing its procedures.
Although it can't compare with the loss felt by Shawn Barlow's family, the mistake was as frustrating and unnerving to the hospital staff as it was to the family of Shaun Barlow, Rorex said.
"I've been (associated) with this hospital for a decade, and I don't remember anything like this ever happening," Rorex said. Nor does she know that it ever happened before she came to the hospital.
Here are the basics:
Shawn Barlow, a 40-year-old deputy district attorney, who was running for a Turlock City Council seat, died a week ago at his Turlock home.
Garcia is a trauma nurse at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto. She received a call on her personal cell phone while she was on her lunch break at 2:30 a.m. last Monday. It was an odd occurrence, she thought, because she rarely if ever gets personal calls overnight.
She was even more perplexed when the caller was from the California Donor Network. Her duties sometimes require her to notify the network when a patient is near death or has died. But she usually calls them, not the other way around, and she had never given them her personal cell number.
"We're sorry for your loss, but we are running out of time," the caller told her.
Loss? What loss?
"We're calling about your brother, Shaun," the caller told her.
"I thought maybe (my brother) was critically ill or on ventilation or something," Garcia said. "Instead, they said, no, he's at the Stanislaus County coroner's office."
She left work immediately, drove to Riverbank and pounded on the door of her other brother's home. Noble Barlow answered and knew immediately that something was wrong. There could be no other reason his sister would suddenly show up at his door at such an odd hour.
"Who?" he asked her.
"Shaun," she answered.
They were jolted and heartbroken, yes. But they remembered that their father died of cardiac arrest at 36 and his father at 38. The family had endured such phone calls before, having lost two cousins and an aunt to overnight accidents.
"Historically, everyone in our family has gone at 2:30 or 3 a.m.," Noble said.
So such news saddened them but seemed to follow a tragically familiar pattern.
Noble Barlow decided to call his brother's cell phone, expecting to get either voice mail or Shaun's wife, Leslie, to pick up.
Instead, a groggy Shaun Barlow answered.
"I'm thinking, 'Who died?' " Shaun said.
"I said, 'So ... what are you doing?' " Noble said.
"Sleeping," Shaun answered. "He tells me that Autumn is here and that the Donor Network called to say that my body was in the morgue."
Garcia then called the coroner's office to alert them to the problem, which was then relayed to Emanuel.
That brings up another question. Could a deceased person's organs be taken by the Donor Network based solely on the permission given in a moment of shock by the wrong person?
Coroner officials said there is virtually no way that can happen because the process involves so many checks and balances to prevent such an occurrence.
Shaun Barlow's family wants everyone to know they offer Shawn Barlow's family and friends their deepest sympathies. Shaun Barlow said he met Shawn Barlow once, when he attended Hughson High and Shawn Barlow attended Turlock High.
"We were at a party one summer," he said. "A friend said, 'Come here, come here, come here. Shaun Barlow, meet Shawn Barlow."
Still, they're angry and perplexed that two families had to endure the same emotional trauma, one unnecessarily because of a hospital's mistake.
The aftermath is this: Shawn Barlow's family and friends will say goodbye to him during a memorial service Tuesday.
Shaun Barlow's family vows to spend more time together to appreciate what they have as siblings, considering their family history and all.
And the folks at Emanuel Medical Center need to get to the bottom of this to make sure it never happens again.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.