FIRST ON CBS7: Former Lubbock morgue employee says local children's organs shipped to CA for research
This story was updated at 11 p.m. to include the separation betwen the original story and reporter's version of the story that was not saved Wednesday evening.
Original Story: A former Lubbock County Medical Examiner's Office worker says the doctors who did autopsies on two local children last August took their organs and shipped them to San Diego for testing.
Senee Graves is suing NAAG Pathology Labs, PC (which now runs the morgue,) Dr. Evan Matshes and Dr. Sam Andrews.
She says Andrews took excessive amounts of tissue while performing autopsies on 2-year-old Zaydrian Guerra and 3-year-old Delany Tercero.
Odessa police say Zaydrian died from reported abuse. Delany died in a natural gas explosion in Midland County.
The lawsuit states, "Dr. Matshes gathered the staff to watch as he performed two autopsies on infants. The new protocol required the removal of the children’s brain, eyes, spinal cord, posterior neck, including vertebra, and the heart and lungs, which Dr. Matshes demonstrated on both children. Dr. Matshes stated that he was acting as a “tech”, not a doctor since was not licensed to practice medicine in Texas. Dr. Matshes made the incisions and removed the organs himself, while Dr. Andrews observed along with the staff."
Zaydrian's grandmother tells CBS7 News that she had no idea his organs had been removed until she read our first online story.
The lawsuit states:
Dr. Matshes gathered the staff to watch as he performed two autopsies on infants. The new protocol required the removal of the children’s brain, eyes, spinal cord, posterior neck, including vertebra, and the heart and lungs, which Dr. Matshes demonstrated on both children. Dr. Matshes stated that he was acting as a “tech”, not a doctor, since was not licensed to practice medicine in Texas. Dr. Matshes made the incisions and removed the organs himself, while Dr. Andrews observed along with the staff.
Ms. Graves worked under Medical Examiner Dr. Natarajan until Lubbock County replaced him in August 2018 with a contract interim Medical Examiner, National Autopsy Assay Group “NAAG”, from San Diego, CA. The NAAG contract Medical Examiner was pathologist Dr. Andrews, who held a Texas Medical License. Dr. Andrews was to fly into Lubbock periodically and perform autopsies.
Immediately after NAAG took over the contract, NAAG began to make changes at the Lubbock Medical Examiner’s Office. Apparently, Lubbock County allowed the contract medical examiner to fire the Lubbock County employees who worked in the medical examiner’s office. The managerial director Honey Smith was fired immediately, and Office Manager Neil Kilcrease PLAINTIFF’S ORIGINAL PETITION Graves v. NAAG Pathology Labs, PC Page 4 of 9 quit within a week. Frank Garcia, Catrina Beights and Kayla Shoenhals were all fired the same day, Kayla by text, in late August.
In August 2018, Dr. Matshes, a Pathologist with NAAG, came to Lubbock with the new interim Medical Examiner Dr. Andrews and explained to the staff that NAAG was starting a new protocol and a new technique for autopsies involving infants and young children. Dr. Matshes stated that he wanted to collect more tissue from those autopsies that had been done in the past because he needed that tissue for his “research.”
One of the autopsies was a suspected case of child abuse from Odessa. The other infant autopsy that day was a case where an infant had died after medical care in UMC hospital from burns suffered in a house explosion in Midland. There was no need for such tissue to determine the cause of the burn death.
Ms. Graves took 3 or 4 pictures as evidence that Dr. Matshes was performing the autopsy as an unlicensed PLAINTIFF’S ORIGINAL PETITION Graves v. NAAG Pathology Labs, PC Page 5 of 9 physician. She sent those to another pathologist, Dr. Pustilnik in Houston for his advice. Ms. Graves was familiar with Dr. Pustilnik because he had done some contract work in Lubbock in the past, and Ms. Graves knew him to be a professional and ethical physician, and she wanted his advice and assistance about reporting this information to the appropriate agencies. Ms. Graves deleted the pictures from her phone and did not retain them. She did not send the pictures to anyone else, and she does not know what Dr. Pustilnik did with the pictures.
Later, around late September 2018, Ms. Graves saw Dr. Matshes in an autopsy room where an autopsy was being conducted on an infant who had died from meningitis. As soon as the child’s skull cap was removed, everyone agreed that the cause of death was an obvious case of meningitis. Dr. Matshes then stated that he “needed more naturals like this for research” and directed the staff to take all the tissue outlined in the new protocol. The staff eventually understood that Dr. Matshes was doing research to identify certain markers for child abuse but needed more studies of tissue from infant and children who had died natural deaths, to compare to the tissue from children who had died from abuse, and that was the purpose of the tissue harvest.
Ms. Graves has not sued Lubbock County but instead has asked them to reinstate her to her position. She is, however, asking for monetary relief of more than $1,000,000.
Ms. Graves is represented by attorney Kevin Glasheen of Glasheen, Valles & Inderman.
“Ms. Graves is a hero for exposing these California body snatchers who have taken over the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office,” said attorney Kevin Glasheen. “Of course, they immediately fired her for doing so – and now we are going to make them pay.”
Reporter's Story: On Wednesday Graves, spoke at a press conference along with her attorney from Glasheen, Valles & Inderman about filing the lawsuit against the two doctors and NAAG Pathology Labs.
Graves said she was fired from her job at the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office on January 17, 2019.
In the lawsuit, she claims it is because she reported suspicious and potentially illegal activity.
“We’re taught from a young age to always trust a doctor they know what they’re doing,” she said.
The lawsuit then listed a chain of events.
In August of 2018, the county replaced the Chief Medical Examiner with another pathologist, Dr. Sam Andrews from NAAG Pathology Labs.
Dr. Andrews had a Texas Medical License and was hired as a contract interim Medical Examiner.
Graves said the week NAAG took over in August, she started seeing changes. The company fired four employees, and one other employee quit.
Dr. Andrews and another pathologist from NAAG, Dr. Evan William Matshes, began implementing new child autopsy protocol.
Page four of the lawsuit, item 14 states, “Dr. Matshes gathered the staff to watch as he performed two autopsies on infants. The new protocol required the removal of the children’s brain, eyes, spinal cord, posterior neck, including vertebra, and the heart and lungs, which Dr. Matshes demonstrated on both children.”
Graves said the new protocol left her feeling emotional.
“I didn’t like a non-licensed physician cutting a body especially a baby. Those are hard enough autopsies to be a part of anyway. But then, when you see them take out things you’re not used to seeing, it like is a punch in the gut,” she said.
In October of 2018, NAAG Pathology Labs signed a contract with Lubbock County to provide medical examiner services on a more permanent basis.
The lawsuit, with Permian Basin ties, claims Dr. Matshes is not licensed to practice medicine in Texas.
It goes on to state that Dr. Andrews watched Dr. Matshes perform autopsies and more tissue than normal was collected because it was needed for “personal research,” according to Page four, item 14 of the lawsuit.
“When you stop and think, well this is different. Well maybe they have reasons, they’re new, they’re from a different place we didn’t learn from them, maybe it's ok,” Graves said.
Graves said she took pictures and reached out to a doctor in Houston for input. The lawsuit states that Graves then deleted the pictures but they were released by someone to local media.
After another autopsy on a child who died from Meningitis, Graves claims she and her co-workers realized why more tissue than normal was being taken from the children’s bodies.
Page five, item 18 of the lawsuit states, “The staff eventually understood that Dr. Matshes was doing research to identify certain markers for child abuse but needed more studies of tissue from infant and children who had died natural deaths, to compare to the tissue from children who had died from abuse, and that was the purpose of the tissue harvesting.”
Graves explained how that realization made her feel.
“Then you start really feeling bad for the families, for the people that don’t really know what’s going on, for yourself, for your co-workers, because you’re there and you’re feeling dirty,” she said.
Graves said many employees quit after that. Graves then contacted law enforcement and a county commissioner. In January, Graves was fired.
As the press conference was winding down, Graves issued a message to the families of the children whose autopsies she witnessed.
“I’m sorry. I wish I had more power and more knowledge to have stopped it. I wish I would have thrown my job out the window to help your baby. That’s all,” she said.
Graves is seeking $1 million in damages and is requesting her job back with the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Graves added that she hopes the right thing is done quickly for all those involved. When asked what she would personally like to see happen, Graves said she hopes NAAG Pathology Labs leave the area, and Lubbock County offers counseling services for those in the medical examiner’s office affected by the autopsies.