NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The city medical examiner’s office treated a Bronx grandmother like “garbage” when it mistakenly shipped off her corpse to a medical school, the woman’s family alleges in a new lawsuit.
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, the family of Aura Ballesteros, who died last month after reportedly battling heart disease and dementia, is suing the city for $5 million.
Her son, Hector Ballesteros, made arrangements for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner to hold the former psychologist’s body until family could travel to New York from Colombia. Instead, it was sent to Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University “to be used for medical students,” the family’s lawyer, Sanford Rubenstein, said during a news conference Tuesday in Downtown Brooklyn.
“I thought the body was safe,” Hector Ballesteros said.
When the woman’s corpse was returned to the family, she had been embalmed and did not look like herself, Hector Ballesteros said.
“Her face is totally changed,” he said. “The mouth had some stitches.”
There was also a large wound on Aura Ballesteros’ neck and injuries to her legs, her son said.
“Something is wrong with that office,” Rubenstein said. “This is not the only time this has happened with regards to incidents involving bodies.”
The medical examiner’s office released a statement apologizing to the family for the mix-up.
“We are very sorry the family had to go through this,” said spokeswoman Julie Bolcer. “By law, medical schools are able to claim bodies for teaching purposes in as little as 48 hours. However, we work diligently to accommodate families and give them as much time as they need to make final arrangements. This decedent was returned to our office within 36 hours, before any teaching activities occurred.”
A spokesperson at Albert Einstein College of Medicine told WCBS 880 in an email the school received the body June 2 and was notified June 3 that the medical examiner’s office “had failed to note in its record keeping system that the family of the deceased had requested that her body remain at the morgue while the family made burial arrangements.” The college says it returned the body to the medical examiner’s office June 4.
“Per our policy, the body was embalmed within 24 hours of receipt,” the spokesperson said. “However, the body was never made available for dissection. The body was designated for medical education (not scientific research) for an anatomy course that begins in fall.
“Einstein followed all policy under New York Public Health Law. The responsibility to contact family members rests with the County Public Administrator’s Office.”
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