Skin Grafts Heisted

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This week 54-year-old Gary Dudek was arrested for allegedly heisting skin grafts. He worked at a regenerative medicine firm in Pennsylvania where he ordered epidermal material for Mercy Philadelphia hospital. Between November 2011 and July of 2013, he may have ordered up to 200 fleshly splices without authorization. The hospital never received the grafts so authorities went looking for the missing skin after Mercy Hospital noticed they were missing  during a financial audit.

Officials say Dudek was caught on tape taking epidermis samples, meant for surgery, from the hospital and putting them in his car. No one is aware of his motive but conjecture has it that he may have been somehow trying to make money from them. Each graft is worth about $1,700.

Stealing and selling human organs and tissue, though unscrupulously bizarre, is not totally unique. According to Annie Cheney, author of Body Brokers: Inside America’s Underground Trade in Human Remains, human corpses are supposed to be buried, cremated or donated to anatomy classes. Instead, they sometimes find their way into the hands of sketchy people who profit by buying and trading human remains.

The government regulates how organs and tissue are handled for transplantation. However, these people who deal in cadavers find all kinds of profitable uses for dead bodies that do not have federal oversight. Some of those uses include medical seminars where new gadgets are being introduced; health related research studies and training courses; and land-mine explosion tests. One corpse used multiple times can produce up to $10,000. A brain can go for $600, while a human elbow could cost $850. A few heisted skin grafts could pull in thousands of dollars. In California, Cheney met a crematorium owner, who sold the body parts of people he was supposed to cremate, for huge profits. In Florida, at a medical conference in a luxury hotel, human torsos were put on display, where normally banquets were set up. Cheney chronicles in her book how demand for cadavers has long compelled dodgy funeral home owners, shady crematorium personnel, and crooked medical school employees to treat dead human bodies as commodities.

Even the practices of human remains dealers sound honorable compared to the activities of international criminals looking to profit from the theft of live human organs. In March of this year, drug cartels were under investigation in Mexico for trafficking in live body parts, most of them taken from children, according to the Mexico Gulf Reporter. In a press conference, Castellanos Becerra, Michoacán State Public Safety Secretary, told reporters, “There are indications of a network which focused on locating persons with certain physical characteristics.” He continued that minors were being targeted. They were kidnapped and taken to rented houses, where waiting medical teams removed their organs and immediately sold them on the black market. Arrests were made.

On a similar note, Journalist Fred Pleitgen, of CNN, made a recent documentary on the inconceivable business of human slave trade and organ trade of living people. His investigation centered on the Middle East, uncovering allegations that a crime mob was dealing in the illegal stealing and selling of live body parts. The Sinai desert sees many refugees crossing it, hoping to make it to Israel for a better life. The dangers are staggering, but the most horrifying risk is that many refugees have been abducted then had their organs harvested while still alive. Medical teams refrigerate the parts then whisk them off to Cairo where they are sold to rich patients for $1,000 to $20,000 (US equivalent). The victims are left for dead. In Pennsylvania whether or not Dudek profited financially from the heisting of human skin grafts or the sale thereof remains to be seen.

by Robin Mercer

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