Man Sues after Stolen Neckbone Implanted in Neck

A man who found out the bone implanted in his neck to relieve back pain was stolen from a corpse is suing a medical technology company and several tissue processing businesses, including two in Tennessee.

James Livingston, 44, of Weatherford, does not seek a specific monetary amount in his suit filed in New York last month against Minneapolis-based Medtronic Inc. for fraud and negligence.

Other defendants are Memphis, Tenn.-based Sofamor Danek Inc.; Knoxville, Tenn.-based Spinalgraft Technologies Inc.; Alachua, Fla.-based Regeneration Technologies Inc.; Fort Lee, N.J.-based Biomedical Tissue Services; Michael Mastromarino and Joseph Nicelli.

"How can you sell parts out of a body, just like parts from a stolen car?" Livingston said.

New York authorities believe Mastromarino, owner of now-defunct Biomedical Tissue Services, made deals with funeral directors to remove bones, tendons and heart valves from corpses without notifying their families or screening for disease. He has pleaded innocent to charges that include a felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison.

Nicelli is a former funeral parlor owner and embalmer who also has pleaded innocent to charges in the case.

Mastromarino is accused of doctoring death certificates and forging consent forms, then replacing the bones with PVC pipe and sewing the incision so it would not be noticed at the funerals.

The body parts were shipped to processing firms nationwide, sterilized and then implanted in patients from early 2004 to September 2005.

It's unclear how many patients received stolen tissue or bone. Livingston's lawyer, John David Hart of Fort Worth, said other lawsuits have been filed around the country.

After the New York investigation into Mastromarino, five tissue processors that received human parts from Biomedical Tissue Services issued voluntarily recalls. Medtronic, a distributor that received the parts, also issued a voluntary recall.

Livingston had surgery in 2005 at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth, which immediately pulled the tissue from its stock after learning of the recall. Physicians who had implanted the suspect material contacted their patients — five in all, said Wendy Walker, a spokeswoman for Baylor Health Care System.

Medtronic has voluntarily recalled about 16,000 bones nationwide, and tests on 12,000 to 13,000 people show no infectious disease that is traceable to the recalled tissue, said company spokesman Bert Kelly.

Although Livingston's blood tests have shown no evidence of disease, he said he is worried about getting sick years from now. Knowing that the bone went through a sterilization process is of little comfort to him.

"My biggest concern is: Nobody really knows," Livingston said. "And there's a part of me that really does want to give that bone back."