Maryland reached a settlement with a woman who was given the wrong ashes after her husband donated his body to science.
An attorney for Carmen Keggins, of Ellicott City, said state health officials have also provided new details on what led to the error at the Maryland Anatomy Board.
The News4 I-Team first reported Keggins’ case in 2018, when a former anatomy board official told her that the ashes she had previously been given and buried were not her husband’s. Brian Keggins donated his body to the state-run board in 2015 after a battle with ALS.
The I-Team investigation found that error was one of many problems inside the board, including poor tracking of bodies, erroneous record-keeping and a donor’s cremains being mistakenly buried in a state cemetery.
The I-Team also uncovered an internal agency memo in which the former director acknowledged “serious inventory control” problems in the program and wrote an employee had wrongly used “material from the lab” to “produce a body for cremation.”
In a lawsuit filed last November, Keggins alleged the Maryland Department of Health, which oversees the program, and the board were negligent in their handling of her husband’s remains.
And she told the I-Team, due to the confusion, she didn’t know whether to believe that the subsequent set of remains they provided her were truly from her husband, saying at the time, “It’s been hell for me, emotionally and physically.”
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David Helfand, an attorney for Keggins, said an anatomy board official met with Keggins under the terms of the settlement and acknowledged a former employee burned medical waste and debris in order to produce false ashes in 2017. The deception was later uncovered when Keggins’ actual remains were returned to the board.
Helfand did not disclose the amount of the settlement but said Keggins now has a “sense of closure” due to assurances from the anatomy board.
In a statement to the I-Team, a spokesman for the Department of Health said officials are “pleased” that Keggins “now feels confident that she has her husband's remains.”
The spokesman added it’s “unfortunate that a former employee first gave her ashes from burning medical waste before returning her husband's remains.”
Following the I-Team report, state health officials launched an audit of the program and reviewed about 1,200 donations. Officials say they’ve found no other cases of mishandled donated remains. The Maryland Senate health committee also requested a review of prior cases.
State officials have also said they’ve instituted tighter controls at the board, including the use of electronic tracking methods of remains, among other improvements.
A spokeswoman for the health department previously told the I-Team the anatomy board is moving to an automated “material management” system that will impose tighter controls on cremation authorizations.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Katie Leslie, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.