Investigation: Tissue And Organ Donations Can Save A Life But At What Cost?

LOS ANGELES (CBS) — CBS2 Investigative Reporter David Goldstein talks to a father whose 23-year-old son was killed in a car accident.  Dennis Carrico claims he only gave permission to a non profit organization — One Legacy — to donate some of his son’s tissues, but later found out they took his entire heart — and much more.

Carrico takes a walk three or four times a week, listening to the wind chimes and looking at the memorial he erected on the spot where his son Kristopher was killed.

“Whenever I hear the wind chimes, I know that Kristopher is here,” he said.

Kristopher died in a car crash last year in Riverside County.

He was a star athlete at Hamilton High School. His dad still proudly displays his letterman jacket. His mom still tears up and says she cannot find the strength to talk about what happened.

“It was the worst day of my life. It was completely unexpected. I was just in shock and bewilderment; I didn’t really know what to do.”

Kristopher was not an organ donor, but within hours after his death, his dad got a call from a woman representing One Legacy, an organ and tissue recovery organization in L.A.

“They wanted our permission to have some tissue donated, and I asked her, ‘Well, what kind of tissue?’” Carrico said.

He said he gave permission to donate some of Kristopher’s ligaments, tendons and his pericardium, the sac around the heart, in the hopes of giving others the gift of life.

But when Carrico got the autopsy report he found they took a lot more.

“They removed the upper and lower leg bone and they removed the heart, not just the sack around the heart. They took his whole heart out, which really hurt me very deeply,” Carrico said.

The hurt was magnified when he says he called One Legacy to complain and found out that they may have received money for recovering his son’s tissues, which he says he thought were being donated.

“That made me feel like I’ve been used, treated like a chump,” he said.

One Legacy is based here in L.A. and is the only organ and tissue recovery organization in Southern California. If you agreed to donate organs through the DMV, it will be handled by One Legacy.

Former employees we spoke with, who wanted to remain anonymous, claimed that what happened with the Carrico’s, has happened to others.

Said one former employee, “It’s about omitting information and deceiving families and being evasive about information to get that consent for donation.”

This person claims employees are expected to get a certain number of donations each day and that sometimes means avoiding talking about tough subjects like money.

“When we explain ‘for profit’ statement on the consent form some families will ask, ‘Will anyone profit from this?’ … a lot of us will be evasive.”

Another former employee says it changed her opinion of donating.

Are you a donor, she was was asked.

“I was.  When I walked in the door I was a registered donor.”

And now?

“No, I’m not because of what I saw there”

Goldstein spoke to One Legacy CEO Tom Mone. “It is absolutely against federal law to sell organs and tissues.  And they are not sold.”

Mone says they’re never sold — but the organization is compensated by tissue processors for the cost of recovering tissue.

Goldstein asks, “Isn’t cost of recovery a fancy way of saying you make a profit?”

“No,” says Mone, “because profit has a very clear definition in the world and we cannot be a for profit organization, we must be non profit.”

However, Mone says every non profit strives to have a positive bottom line. To survive.

And he does earn a big salary: $661,355

According to IRS returns we’ve obtained — Mone made more than $661,000 in 2009. That includes a $54,000 bonus.

Mone makes more than comparable CEOs in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, but says that One Legacy is the largest organ and tissue recovery organization in the country, if not the world.

“All compensation at One Legacy and at any hospital I’ve ever been at as well is based upon a comparison of peer salaries across the industry being in our case, the organ and tissue industry, and the hospital industry from which we hire most of our staff.”

Mone also denies that employees are deceiving families.

“They are not instructed, they have never been instructed and there has never been a quota at One Legacy.”

But in Kristopher Carrico’s case — Mone wrote a letter to his father saying their employee “did not fully explain that the whole heart must be recovered.” And admitted — “this individual will receive additional training.”

Dennis Carrico hopes people don’t lose the trust in organ and tissue donation.

And despite what happened with him, he hopes that Krisotpher’s tissues are helping others to live on.

“They say as long as your name’s remembered, that your always alive.”

David Goldstein, CBS2 News

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