Do you know where your bones have been?
Until a few weeks ago, Lakeside resident Tom Adams didn’t. That’s when the mail brought a letter telling him that a piece of bone used in a surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his spine had come from a donor, and that it had not been properly screened for viruses.
“I was a little startled it was there,” says Adams, who has had 14 surgeries to repair damaged discs in his back. “I’ve always shied away from that sort of thing.”
A spokesperson for Missoula-based Neurological Associates, which performed the surgery, was unavailable for comment. According to Adams, Neurological Associates hadn’t told him that they’d used donated bone.
Turns out the donor didn’t know what was going on either. The transplanted bone, Adams says he was informed by Neurological Associates’ Dr. Carter Beck, had been stolen.
On Feb. 23, a district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., indicted Michael Mastromarino, a former oral surgeon, and Joseph Nicelli, a funeral home owner, for stealing tissue from corpses without consent.
Mastromarino and Nicelli sold the parts through their company, BioMedical Tissue Services. That company supplied the bone that ended up in Adams’ body.
After removing bone from a corpse, Mastromarino and Nicelli’s company allegedly replaced it with PVC piping. Also, according to the indictment, they falsified death certificates to change ages and causes of death.
They also allegedly failed to screen the body parts for viruses, which is why 68-year-old Adams is now being tested for HIV, hepatitis and syphilis. Little is known about the person from whose body Adams got his bone. The parts, Adams says Dr. Beck told him, are believed to have come from a Florida morgue.
It will be a few weeks until Adams knows the results of his tests, and what other surprises his transplanted bone might hold. Adams, who says he has flatlined three times in his life due to multiple health problems, isn’t afraid to find out.
“I’ve lost my fear of death,” he says.