NEW YORK (PIX11) — Aura Ballesteros was psychologist and a professor at several universities in her native country of Colombia.
Ballesteros lived in the Bronx and tutored and volunteered for her community, according to her son.
At 85-years-old, the woman who lived so much life and meant so very much to her family passed away on May 16.
“This is one of the painful issues. That they treated her in my opinion like garbage. Like nobody else. She is somebody,” said her son Hector Ballesteros.
Despite making arrangements with the city’s Chief Medical Examiner’s office to hold his mother’s body for one month while he waited for family from Columbia to make it to the U.S. for her funeral, Hector says his mother was sent to Albert Einstein Medical College without his permission.
“Of course as soon as I learned basically two days later I asked right away for the body to be sent back in the same condition of how the body was sent to the medical school,” Hector told PIX11.
Days later, Hector says his mother’s body was finally returned to the ME’s office and eventually to a Bronx funeral home, but she was not the same.
“…The body was damaged, the body was embalmed,” Hector said. “The mouth had some stitches. There is a big wound on the neck. The legs also have some injuries.”
According to the university, the medical examiner’s office “failed to note in its record keeping system that the family of the deceased had requested that her body remain at the morgue with the family made burial arrangements.”
Ballesteros’ body was embalmed within 24 hours, however, it was never made available for dissection, according to the school.
This family’s story is heartbreaking, however, the family’s attorney Sanford Rubenstein says they are not alone.
“While one of the theories is negligence, another theory is that it was done intentionally. It was an intentional act. We look forward to deposing the medical examiner’s office and everyone who was involved,” Rubenstein said.
PIX11 has learned the city’s Department of Investigation is looking in the Ballesteros case, among others at the Medical Examiner’s office.
In one instance, a 71-year-old woman lost, buried on Hart Island, where the city buries unclaimed bodies.
But now, hundreds of bodies being exhumed so her family can claim her.
In another case, a mix up lead to a man being accidentally cremated.
Charles Eric Gordon, an investigative attorney, says he knows of at least 26 instances in which the ME’s office did not properly make an attempt to notify family members for some of the dead.
“It’s just disgusting. We’re talking about people who are human beings,” Gordon told PIX11. “Is something happening here. Are parts missing?”
“More importantly, the question for New Yorkers is what’s going on? Can New Yorkers feel comfortable when the bodies of loved ones are sent to the medical examiner’s office?” said Rubenstein.
“As of today, officially I didn’t receive any apology from the Chief Medical Examiner’s office at this time,” Hector said.
“This is like another loss, besides the loss of my mother. It’s like we lost something else. That’s a violation of my mother’s body.”
In a statement released to PIX11, the medical examiner’s office said in part:
“We are very sorry the family had to go through this. By law, medical schools are able to claim bodies for teaching purposes in as little as 48 hours. However, we work diligently to accommodate families and give them as much time as they need to make final arrangements. This decedent was returned to our office within 36 hours, before any teaching activities occurred.”