NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A family is suing Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, claiming they were given the remains of another child instead of their own son.
Lisa Ward says her son's remains are missing. Matthew Ward was admitted to the hospital with a serious medical condition and died on Oct. 1. Ward adopted her special needs son ten years ago: a loving child with a wonderful smile.
The family said something like this should never happen under any circumstance after the death of a loved one. They're heartbroken, and want their child's remains.
Vanderbilt is sympathetic but said they made no mistake and released the correct body.
"I don't know what ashes we have that belong to another momma out there. This isn't Matthew," Ward said. "I want to know where my baby is."
That question is at the heart of a $10 million lawsuit filed against Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
"This is the most bizarre situation I've seen in my career," said medical malpractice attorney Clint Kelly.
After checking her son into the hospital, Ward said she noticed injuries to his legs.
"So, I requested the medical documents to see if there was a reason for the injury and there wasn't," Ward said.
A day later Matthew died of complications from a pre-existing condition.
The family arranged for a funeral home to pick up the body and made the unusual request that photos be taken of the boy's injured legs before he was cremated. Ward said she was given a bag of ashes after cremation.
Several days later, a grieving Ward asked for the photos — which, to her shock, showed a white baby, not her Black 11-year-old son.
"I say to my husband, I yelled — that's not Matthew," Ward said.
She immediately called the funeral home, which confirmed the child in the photo was the body with Matthew's ID tag that was released to them by Vanderbilt.
"There is no reasonable explanation for that tag unless Vanderbilt shopped out the wrong body," Kelly said.
In a statement, Vanderbilt agreed that the photos provided by the funeral home are not of Ward's son. But the hospital says it is certain that it released the correct body to the mortuary and there is a verification process to make sure there are no errors.
Vanderbilt insists it wasn't their mistake. They say questions about what happened should be addressed to the funeral home.
"They said 100 percent positive this is the body Vanderbilt gave us," Ward said.
Currently, Ward is only suing Vanderbilt. She says she just wants answers and her son's ashes.
"It's not Matthew; so there is another family who doesn't know that they have our and we have theirs," she said
For now, no one has been able to identify the white baby in the photos. In a statement, Vanderbilt claims that the body of one other child was in the mortuary at the same time as Matthew, and that they have "conclusively confirmed" the other family "received the correct body."
It is very difficult to get a DNA match from cremated remains.
Below is Vanderbilt's complete statement.
I want to reiterate our sympathy for this family’s loss. One of our representatives has spoken with the mother after an investigation regarding her questions. We agree the photos she said were provided by Robertson County Funeral Home are not of her child. However, we are certain we released the correct body to Music City Mortuary, acting on behalf of Robertson County Funeral Home. This occurred on the morning of 10/2/2020, between 11:10 and 11:15 a.m.
Through this investigation we have learned this funeral home uses vendors for cremation services and to transport bodies. As a result, rather than point fingers at VUMC, we think there are relevant questions for this funeral home about their processes. Including verification before cremation.
Here, before bodies are released there is a verification process to make sure there are no errors. We have spoken with the individuals responsible the disposition of this body, and for releasing the body to a representative from Music City Mortuary, Brandon Petty, who transported the child on behalf of Robertson County Funeral Home. We have clear documentation regarding this matter.
Respective of the “toe tag,” this would have been with the patient’s body. There would have been a label containing the patient’s name and medical record number on the outside of the shroud (body bag), and another on the patient’s body. Before the body was released, these labels were checked with the demographic information from the patient’s medical record. It would be expected for this funeral home to have these labels containing the patient’s information.
Our broader investigation found there were only two children in our morgue at the time of the disposition of this patient’s body. The other child varied in characteristics including age, size and race. We have conclusively confirmed the other party received the correct body. The body of that child went to a different county for burial. We are sure, and an independent party has confirmed, the photos you have are not of this child either. Like the mother, we do not know the identity of the child in the photos.
After we are sure we have released the correct body to the appropriate parties authorized by patients’ families we are not in control of the performance or outcomes provided by funeral services providers.
This story was originally published by Nick Beres on WTVF in Nashville.