Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dead Stuff: 18 Frozen Human Heads seized at Ohare Airport by Customs

Every once in a while, you develop a body of knowledge without ever really planning to do so. Suddenly people ask you questions and you find you know the answers. This has happened to me at least twice. Once back in my starving writer odd jobs days when I found work in the fitness industry staffing a gym, secondly when I got a call from an obscure television show called "Manswers" asking me what I knew about the sale of dead human bodies. The gym knowledge came about through reading gym magazines, something I did more to keep my interest in exercise up and myself going to the gym than to actually try and learn knowledge. The information on the sale of human bodies came from several obscure places, including writing a master's thesis that dealt with the history paleontology in China, spending time in the paleontology and art rooms in high school and graduate school and asking the question "Where did that skeleton come from anyway?" and occasionally from just reading on current events and pursuing interests relating to emergency medical services and so on.

Not only did I appear on Manswers with this interest but I also wrote on it for Paladin Press in their book, "Even More Dangerously Fun Stuff for Boys who Never Really Grew Up."

This story comes from EMS News, a free and very informative on-line newsletter aimed at emergency medical service personnel.

Seized Heads Headed for Cremation

The 18 frozen heads -- used in medical research -- were seized by customs officials at O'Hare International Airport.

CHICAGO (AP) - It sounded ghoulish enough: a shipment of 18 frozen human heads discovered and seized by customs officials during routine X-ray screening of cargo arriving at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Turns out the heads were used for medical research in Italy and were being returned for cremation in Illinois. The holdup was due to a paperwork problem.

It just so happens such shipments are commonplace, and heads - quite a few of them - crisscross the globe via airplane and delivery truck.

"Just last week, we transported eight heads, unembalmed, to Rush University Medical Center for an ophthalmology program," said Paul Dudek, director of the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois, which supplies cadavers and body parts to medical schools in the state for training students.

His association sends about 450 whole cadavers to medical schools each year and also ships individual body parts, including about a dozen shipments of heads annually.

The heads are used for training in fields such as dentistry, ophthalmology and neurology, where they are used for Alzheimer's research. They are also used to train plastic surgeons and by students learning to perform facial reconstructions on accident and trauma victims, Dudek said.

Most cadavers are obtained through voluntary donation by people who designate a willingness to have their bodies benefit science upon their death, Dudek said.

The shipment to O'Hare was properly preserved, wrapped and labeled "human specimens," said Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, which took hold of the shipment on Monday for storage in its morgue cooler while authorities continued to investigate the paperwork.

Copyright 2013 Courier, The (Findlay, OH)Distributed by Newsbank, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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