ATLANTA — CBS Atlanta is exposing a practice of stealing bodies and illegally cutting them up for cash. There’s a market for body parts called the tissue trade– layers of skin, eyes, bones and just about any piece of a person’s body can be taken and sold for cash.”Pictures are hard to look at, because when I see my dad I don’t see my dad as I should see my dad. I see my dad in pieces,” Karen DelRe said.Her father died unexpectedly a few days before Christmas in 2004.”He died of respiratory failure, but he had a lot of other complications. he had skin cancer,” DelRe said.His death was not a complete shock, but it’s what happened to his body afterward that defies her imagination, she said.”They went all whole hog with chainsaws and saws and things that your imagination couldn’t imagine in your wildest dreams,” she said.DelRe describes James Thornton as a loving father who could light up any room.”You would be friends with my dad in a minute,” she said. “I miss him.”Thornton’s wishes after his death were clear, DelRe said, and she was determined to bury her father with dignity.”He just did not like knives,” she explained. “And he didn’t want an autopsy because he didn’t want anyone cutting him.”DelRe cremated her father as he requested. But after his funeral, her worst nightmare began to unfold. She learned from police her father’s body had been stolen by body brokers and his parts sold to tissue banks. Police said his death certificate was forged to alter his cause of death, and his remains were mutilated.”They skinned him. They took almost 900 square inches of skin, I’ve come to learn– almost every bone in his body. and what was left of him was a decapitated head, hands and feet,” DelRe said.In the tissue business, a single body is worth up to $300,000. That’s the big business of body brokering.A CBS Atlanta investigation has uncovered not only this horrendous practice, but also the dangers of how those body parts are later used.”Now I worry somebody has pieces of my dad, which is scary to me. I wouldn’t want pieces of him, I mean, cause he was sick. he was sick,” she said.His body parts were transplanted into patients who had no way of knowing they were getting tissue illegally harvested from a stolen body.”Just because they come in a plastic bag that is sealed, that does not mean it is sterile and cannot transmit infections or have other problems,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director of Blood, Organ and Tissue Safety Matt Kuehnert said.Kuehnert admits there’s no way to know, at this point, the number of cases in which tainted tissue has been transplanted into unsuspecting patients.”That is unacceptable, and it is something that we need to improve,” he said.despite what patients believe, Kuehnert said there is no tracking of tissue and no surveillance for the CDC to be able to monitor how often infectious diseases are transmitted through tissue transplants.”I think [patients] need to know the truth,” he said.Kuehnert is in the process of pushing for more controls.”There needs to be surveillance and tracking at each and every step,” he said.That may have prevented tainted tissue from being transplanted in to an unknown number of patients, like Rita Powell.Powell was always on the go. from car racing to horseback riding, playing hard left her with a neck injury that required routine surgery, she said.”You play hard, you pay hard,” Powell said.A bone graft was transplanted between some of the discs in her neck. Her doctor suggested getting that tissue from a cadaver to decrease her healing time, she said.after the surgery, an MRI showed the surgery was a success, but something was very wrong.”I woke up with intense migraines, and they never went away,” Powell said.Powell immediately started having complications, and several months later, she got a frightening call.”[My doctor] told me that he had found out that the bone graft I had got was not harvested correctly. It was illegally harvested and had not been screened for communicable diseases,” she said.Powell was diagnosed with cervical dystonia, which is a condition in which your neck can’t properly support your head.The FDA issued a recall for the stolen body parts used in Powell’s surgery and numerous other surgeries. The FDA letter said they were harvested “without consent,” and never properly screened.”I was scared to death.” Powell said.Not only does the CDC admit the risk of infectious disease from tissue transplants is unknown, but Powell fears the graft she got was decomposing before it was placed in her neck.”The body laid out up to 54 hours decomposing,” she said she learned from FDA records.”[Body parts] are, in my opinion, unregulated, unsafe, and there is a huge financial incentive to the tune of a quarter of a million to $300,000 per cadaver,” attorney Don Keenan told CBS Atlanta News.Keenan sued Atlanta-based Cryolife, the tissue processor. he won the case after his client, Brian Lykins, died a gruesome death.”The tissue came from a suicide victim that had been unrefrigerated for a minimum of 19 hours and maybe as much as 32 hours,” Keenan said the lawsuit revealed.Lykins was a college athlete going in for a routine knee surgery. Forty-eight hours later he was dead.”His lungs starting filling up, blood was coming out of all of his orifices, his head swelled to well beyond its normal size. and then, finally, he died,” Keenan said.The ligament placed in Lykin’s knee was infected with botulism, a disease that devours the body from the inside out.”Anybody who happens to get the surgery that gets implanted with a cadaver part is a potential victim,” Keenan said.and while a few states have stricter regulations that govern how tissues are harvested and processed, Georgia isn’t one of them.”Pigs will fly first before the Georgia Legislature will do anything about this,” Keenan said.The reason, Keenan says, is the tissue trade is a multi-billion dollar business with high paid lobbyists protecting the use of improperly obtained and potentially tainted tissue.”It is all driven by this huge financial greed factor,” he said.”I have very few good days anymore. I am always in pain,” Powell told CBS Atlanta News.She takes more than two dozen pills each day to live a fraction of a normal life. There is no way to remove the tainted tissue she fears is collapsing in here neck. and if it collapses?”I’m paralyzed. I’m paralyzed,” Powell said. “That sort of thing, it terrifies me.”And to top that off, Powell has to get tested every six months for communicable diseases that may have been passed to her through the tainted tissue.”My ultimate fear now is cancer,” she said.The CDC says there is no way of knowing how many people have been infected with tainted tissue because there are few safe guards and no tracking in place. In one case Kuehnert described, several patients were infected with hepatitis C over a period of years before the tissue was recalled.
Body Parts Stolen, Sold For Cash