Local News

Issue Of Stolen Tissue Worries Local Recepients

Posted February 28, 2006

— Several Triangle hospitals may have used stolen bone and tissue for implants. Their distributors bought the tissue from a supplier who is now charged with running a multimillion-dollar business that looted bones and tissue from more than 1,000 corpses. Now, one local patient possibly implanted with the stolen tissue is asking if she's paranoid or justified in worrying.

"I trusted the medical team when I closed my eyes that day in surgery," said Becky Barnhill.

But a year after her neck surgery, Barnhill said her doctor called to say there was a possibility she was implanted with bone and tissue stolen from cadavers.

"I'm thinking, 'What is in my body that I have no control over?'" said Barnhill.

Every day for her since has been a mental fight.

"Why am I so stiff?" asked Barnhill. "Why do I feel so bad?"

"The worst thing to me in this whole situation is that the patients are being put in the situation where they have to worry about these things," said Dr. Timothy Carter, Medical Director of Patient Safety at Rex Hospital. "And I see the patients that are so anxious, and I just feel bad for them because they don't need to be."

Carter said seven Rex patients might have received stolen bone or tissue. The supplier is accused of looting New York funeral homes and selling the material. But the hospital's distributor didn't know which human tissue was stolen. Now some patients are afraid they could have been exposed an infectious disease.

"The risk is extremely small," said Carter. "I find myself asking the question, 'Is it even zero?' Well, you probably can't swear to zero."

As a precaution, Barnhill said she was tested for HIV and hepatitis. Test results were negative, and doctors now say Barnhill is in the clear.

"I'm just not convinced there are no problems," she said. "You didn't sell me on that one."

Rex Hospital says tissue is sterilized before its implanted. That should kill all infectious agents.

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