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It All Started With Cadaver Screws
By April Cordero


April Cordero

          I was a nurse in an Emergency Room (ER) for 15 years and was totally dedicated. I loved the hospital and the people that worked there. Something happened when I was there that changed me forever. I injured my knee and needed surgery. I was seen by the head of the sports medicine program. This doctor had a million dollar contract for the district, I assumed he was the best. After an initial visit he told me I needed an ACL repair. I had already paid for a skiing trip and opted to delay the surgery. Eight or nine months later I called his office to schedule the surgery. Given so much time had past, I asked if I needed to be seen preoperatively by the surgeon but was told that would not be necessary.

            I was having the surgery at the hospital where I worked and was familiar with the staff. I was feeling pretty safe and confident of the care I would receive. At my pre-op appointment with the nurses, I stressed that I would be using my own patellar tendon for the repair and that I did not want any cadaver parts put into me. This was a personal choice, not a religious choice. The surgery appeared to go off without a hitch and I had a follow up visit 5 days later. During the follow up visit, I was told I needed a CT scan of my knee. I asked the doctor why and he stated, "Do not worry about the CT scan because this company is going to pay for it". I said, "I have insurance that could pay for it." Again, I was told not to worry about it and he gave me the business card of the company that was going to pay for my CT scan. My curiosity peaked. I had a friend who was an orthopedic tech who also owned his own orthopedic supply company. I asked him to inquire about this company to see what they were all about. He called me a week later and told me they manufactured bone screws, A.KA. cadaver screws. I was shocked. I specifically told the pre-op nurse that I did not want anything cadaver in me. It turned out that unbeknownst to me, representatives from this company were in the OR during my surgery! I tried to get my medical records but was told that they could not be located. I went to see the risk manager of the hospital and told her of my concerns. She called the OR and spoke to the nurse manager. The nurse manager told the risk manager that I had plastic screws in my knee and that she knew this because she was in my operating suite while the surgery was taking place. Finally, they found my medical records which had been locked in a safe for unknown reasons. After examining my records I found that I had cadaver screws in my knee and I could see the cadaver donor numbers next to each screw. I was in shock. This orthopedic doctor had also dictated a history and physical on me without ever seeing me prior to the surgery. I was extremely upset with this new information and realized I had been completely deceived. I approached the risk manager again and she called the company that manufactured these bone screws. She was told that they were doing research to see what the rejection rates were for titanium screws, plastic screws, and bone screws. Research on human subjects has well established rules and this should never have happened. After realizing the enormity of the situation, the risk manager told me she was not going to speak to me anymore as this was now a legal issue.

            My body rejected portions of the screws within one year's time. I never consented to those screws, and now they were shredding the only remaining cartilage left in my knee. I've since had a total of nine surgeries on that knee and still struggle today. The hospital, that I worked for, that was complicit in placing me into a research study without my consent, never once advocated for me. I was angry, and I carried that anger for many years. I became very untrusting of the medical profession. It became increasingly difficult to work for the hospital at the same time as I sought legal restitution. I had difficulty trusting others in my personal life as well as my professional life. I became known as a whistle blower and the hospital district became my enemy. I became a fierce advocate for my patients. My legal restitution didn't come until 16 years later and by that time those cadaver bones were absorbed by my bone, forever a part of me.

About the Author: April Codero is a Registered Nurse and an Assistant Professor at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. She has practice as a nurse for 31 years and as a nurse educator for 13.

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