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Transplant patients claim they became ill from stolen body parts

Apr 29, 2006 | AP

At least 12 people who had routine operations say they caught deadly viruses and other germs from parts stolen from bodies in a ghoulish scandal that has sent hundreds of people for tests.

The patients tested positive for viruses that cause AIDS, hepatitis or syphilis after receiving tissue transplants, according to their attorneys and court records.

Lawsuits have been filed for two Midwestern men, one in Nebraska and one in Ohio. Both say they caught a hepatitis virus from the tissue implanted in back and spine operations a contention that attorneys acknowledge will be difficult to prove. Attorneys for both men say they know of no other factors that would put their clients at risk for hepatitis.

"It pretty much turned my world upside down," said one of the patients, Ned Jackson, 49, of Omaha, Neb.

So far, about 25 lawsuits have been filed in federal courts across the country, most asking for class-action status for hundreds of people who were implanted with tissues that the U.S. government recalled.

A New Jersey company, Biomedical Tissue Services, is accused of failing to get consent to take bones, tendons, ligaments, skin and other tissue from cadavers. The most famous example involved the body of Alistair Cooke, the longtime host of the PBS series Masterpiece Theater. Cooke died of cancer at 95, and his leg bones were removed and shipped to tissue processors for use in medical procedures.

About 1 million procedures a year involve implants of cadaver tissues. The companies that process the body parts for those surgeries say that their products are safe and believe that the case involving BTS of Fort Lee, N.J., is an aberration.

The owner of BTS and three others have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. BTS has since closed. At least 8,000 people received BTS tissue, according to one of the tissue distributors.

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