OKLAHOMA CITY — Jesse Hall said his father had been ill, but when he passed away in September 2018, his death still came as a shock.
“My dad died so young … he was 63,” he said Wednesday in an interview with Nexstar’s KFOR.
Hall said he and his sisters began planning for a memorial and wanted to honor their father’s final wish by donating his body for medical research and education.
Working with the United Tissue Network, a nonprofit whole body donation organization, the family agreed to donate the body on the condition that the cremated remains be returned to them after two years.
They consented to a two-year placement as a whole-body cadaver specimen, a program the company uses for anatomy labs and classes at medical schools and universities.
The non-profit utilizes human tissue for a variety of programs, including physician education, surgical training, device and drug research and development, according to its website.
At the conclusion of the two-year agreement, donors are supposed to be cremated locally, and the ashes returned to United Tissue Network, then to the family if they request them.
Hall says he and his sisters hoped to eventually scatter their dad’s ashes in one of his favorite places, but were later appalled to learn that due to an error, their father’s remains had been scattered on an island in the Caribbean instead.
“We [were] on a three-way [call] and my little sister started bawling,” he said. “And I’ve never heard her cry like that, ever. And she told us that they lost dad. And I was like, ‘What do you mean, they lost dad?'”
“It’s a really big mess-up,” he added. “I mean [they] lost a human being.”
The family said they were initially led to believe that their father’s ashes had been scattered in the Caribbean Sea; however, in an emailed statement to KFOR Wednesday, a UTN representative offered a different explanation.
“The donor in this matter was transferred to American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine in Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) in November of 2018,” read the statement from the company’s general council, in part.
The statement continued, reading, “Unfortunately, when United Tissue Network inquired with regard to the status of the cremation and the expected return of the cremated remains we discovered that the donor’s cremated remains were in error interred in a local cemetery, rather than returned to United Tissue Network as originally agreed.
“There was some initial confusion as university personnel initially reported the remains had been scattered at sea. However, UTN’s internal inquiry in which the crematory was contacted directly concerning disposition revealed the cremated remains were in fact interred in a common ceremonial burial in a local cemetery.”
The United Tissue Network’s General Counsel, Hal Ezzell went on to say that the occurrence was unique for the program’s 13-year history, adding that in an internal inquiry, they “determined that the most likely reason for the error was the university’s closure and personnel turnover during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“[We] deeply regret that we were ultimately unable to return to the family the ashes of their loved ones as expected,” Ezzell said in the statement.
“They apologized [when the incident happened], and [they said] if there’s anything they can do for us, to reach out to them. That’s what they said. And they left it at that,” Hall said. “Maybe they [United Tissue Network] learned something out of it…hopefully they did.”
The family has sued the company, citing a breach of contract, negligence, and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“Obviously we’re not going to get the ashes back,” Hall added. “We’re going through trials…I just want resolve.”
The case is set for a civil trial, but a court date has not yet been determined.