Chicago family claims donated body's head used in retaliation against employee

The family of a woman who donated her body to science is now suing the company that handled her remains, alleging her severed head was used to retaliate against an employee.

Loren Santow of Chicago said his mother, Elaine Herman, wanted to help the doctors, health workers and researchers who use bodies to advance science. 

"She wanted her death to mean something in the same way she wanted her life to mean something," said Santow.

So, before Herman died, she signed a form to donate her body to the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois, which provides human remains to several Chicago area medical schools. 

"It wasn't a difficult decision once we learned about the AGA and the work that they did," Santow said. "We all thought this is it. This is exactly what we want to do."

In 2020, Elaine Herman died at the age of 95, and the funeral home delivered her body to the AGA.

But last year, Santow said he was contacted out of the blue by former AGA employee Dale Wheatley, who had just gone public with appalling allegations about bodies intended for medical research being mishandled, abused and allowed to rot.

But perhaps most disturbing, Wheatley alleged someone at the association placed three severed human heads on his desk in what he believes was retaliation for his whistleblowing.

Days later, Wheatley contacted Santow and told him one of the heads was that of Santow's mother. 

"I just thought how could this be? How could anybody permit this?" Santow said. "And as soon as this happened, I thought surely my phone is gonna ring any minute, and the director of the AGA, the head of the board of directors, or somebody's going to call me and say we're so sorry this happened, Mr. Santow. But nobody ever did."

Now, Santow has filed a lawsuit in Cook County Court against the AGA and several Chicago area medical schools that make up the association, accusing them of negligence and causing emotional distress. 

"We feel strongly the evidence is going to show that the AGA was not being held to the standards it should have and must be held to," said Attorney Stephen Donnelly, who filed the lawsuit on Santow's behalf.

Santow said the AGA has since returned his mother's cremated remains, which he plans to return to her old home in California. 

"I hope that no other family is treated this way. I hope the AGA will revisit and revise their practices to ensure this never happens again," said Santow, 

FOX 32 left email and voicemail messages with the AGA but has not yet received a response to the lawsuit.