Monday, January 22, 2007
Help Me Howard: Missing Body
His brother died in the hospital but no one called him to let him know. He wants to know why. Can Help Me Howard find the answers? Here is Seven's Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- The last few months have been terribly painful for Sergio Gonzalez.
Sergio Gonzalez: "I'm the only brother, surviving brother."
It's not just that Sergio's brother Jorge died, it's the fact that Sergio did not know about it for several months.
Sergio Gonzalez: "I, I was flabbergasted. I didn't know what to do."
Jorge had HIV and, towards the end of his life, would disappear for months at a time.
After not hearing from him for awhile, Sergio started looking.
Sergio Gonzalez: "So, I called one of the pharmacies where he used to get his medication."
The pharmacist told him Jorge's prescriptions had been cancelled.
So Sergio called the hospital where his brother went for treatment.
Sergio Gonzalez: "She said she remembered my brother's name and that he had died, Aug. 9, 2005, at 7 o'clock in the morning, and he was sent the following day, Aug. 10, to the morgue."
Sergio was shocked and went to the medical examiners office to find out where Jorge had been buried.
That's when he was stunned again when they told him they never got Jorge's body.
Sergio Gonzalez: "And I couldn't believe that. I told them this is not a Latin country where bodies disappear."
Eventually paperwork was tracked down and Sergio learned his brother had been cremated.
Sergio Gonzalez: "They donated him for cremation as an indigent and that he had no family members."
Sergio couldn't believe it -- no one had called him from the hospital or morgue since he is listed as the next of kin on his brother's paperwork from the hospital.
Sergio Gonzalez: "That is my name. That is my number."
Without a body to confirm his brother is dead -- or some sort of proof -- Sergio is in limbo.
Since the death certificate says the body had no scars and Jorge had a scar down his torso from open-heart surgery...
Sergio Gonzalez: "So, I don't know if he's alive or dead or what -- or had disappeared."
Sergio is now tormented. He says he sees people now and stops to make sure they're not his brother. But he is left to wonder do the ashes at the morgue really belong to Jorge.
Sergio Gonzalez: "Please, I need to know. I need to rest. I need to put him to rest."
Wondering if everything was handled properly, Sergio called Help Me Howard.
Howard Finkelstein: "Sergio will probably never get a definitive answer if the ashes are his brothers. In this case, both the hospital and the morgue had an obligation to make a reasonable effort to locate the next of kin, so they could chose to claim the remains. If they tried and failed then, legally, they can cremate the body."
When Help Me Howard contacted the hospital they told us they tried to reach Sergio by phone.
They say he never answered and didn't have voice mail.
In a statement, they told us they have a very aggressive policy for contacting family members.
Sergio asks why didn't they send him a letter; he wants to sue.
Howard Finkelstein: "Sergio would have to prove that the hospital and the morgue didn't even attempt to notify him in order for him to be awarded damages. And, to be blunt, it's almost impossible to prove that someone didn't make those phone calls."
But Sergio is pulling his phone records to see if there were incoming calls from the hospital.
He says it's unbelievable that all they had to do was make a couple of phone calls before declaring his brother dead.
Sergio Gonzalez: "You know, at this type of age, if we believe in humanity, how can it be so inhumane to do something to a human being like this?"
Patrick Fraser: "Once, before Jorge was admitted to the hospital, the hospital had the same information they had before died. That time they called Sergio right away. The bottom-line -- if you are having any procedure done and they ask for an emergency contact, don't give them one person, give them several and carry those names in your wallet or purse in case you ever get in an accident."
The kind of things you don't want to think about, but you have to.
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