Couple told to collect dead son’s brain in lab mix-up

A shocking mix-up has resulted in a Limerick couple being wrongly advised they could collect their dead son’s brain from the State laboratory.

Patrick O’Donnell and wife Teresa, who live in St Mary’s Park, last night told of their devastation over the confusion.

Their son Joseph O’Donnell, aged 30, was found dead in a city centre apartment on Dec 7, 2010, but the organ, it emerged, belonged to a namesake who died in a violent incident in Limerick two months earlier.

“My wife Teresa is in a bad way over it,” Mr O’Donnell said yesterday.

“It’s just unbelievable, in this day and age, with all the hi-tech communication, that me and my family can be told that our son’s brain had been taken from him — when it was not.

“We were told to make arrangements for an undertaker to collect it in the State lab in Dublin.

“Its hard enough to cope with things as it is but this makes you wonder about the whole system,” he added.

An inquest into the death of Joseph O’Donnell was held by John McNamara, the city coroner, on Apr 4, 2011, and recorded an open verdict.

However, another man, also named Joseph O’Donnell, aged 48, had died in violent circumstances in the city on Oct 1, 2010. His brain had been removed during an autopsy and sent to the State laboratory.

As he was pronounced dead at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, his death came within the jurisdiction of Dr Tony Casey, coroner for Limerick South East.

Following the Dec 2010 death of Joseph O’Donnell, an autopsy was carried out at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital.

His uncle, Anthony O’Donnell contacted the hospital on behalf of the family to obtain certification about the death.

He said he was referred to Dr Casey and left his phone number as the family contact.

However, it was only last week when the State laboratory contacted Dr Casey’s office about having the brain of Joseph O’Donnell, who died in Oct 2010, that the mix-up over the family contact came to light.

Dr Casey said: “We had Anthony O’Donnell as the next of kin — for Joseph O’Donnell who died in Oct 2010 — and that is why we rang him when we wanted to make contact with the family. Evidently, it was the wrong O’Donnell (family), hence the problem arose. We apologised.

“A staff member who dealt with the matter advised the family the wrong phone call was made on the basis of the information we had.”

Mr O’Donnell said the first they heard about a brain being removed was when his brother Anthony rang him last Wednesday after being contacted by Dr Casey’s office.


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