ROBERTSDALE, Ala. (WKRG) — A heartbreaking story of a Mom’s battle to change the law that compounded the tragedy of her son’s sudden death. A Robertsdale mother discovered her son’s heart was taken after autopsy and years later destroyed. Now, she is closer than ever to getting the law changed so it never happens to another family.
He is forever 17, “He was an amazing person.” Justin Crooks died suddenly 12 years ago. “He had a large tear behind his heart, aortic dissection, aneurysm behind the heart and he died instantly at home.”
The trauma of his death compounded when his mother Donna Atkins discovered his heart was taken during the autopsy. “They had it 6 years four months and 19 days and I had no idea.”
Atkins says a conversation with a medical examiner was even more disturbing. “He says they take eyes, brains, hearts, whatever they deem necessary. They don’t tell the loved ones because it would be upsetting, duh.”
That began her battle to get a law passed, “If I took something that belonged to you and didn’t ask you, that is theft and this is the same thing but worse.”
Senate Bill 9 is now working its way through the legislature. It requires medical examiners to get permission before keeping an organ. If they don’t they could face criminal charges. State Senator Chris Elliott says this is a good bill that should become law. “There are stringent rules that are followed and if those rules are not followed there are criminal penalties.”
There is still anger when Donna Atkins talks about how her youngest son died and what happened afterward, “I look at his urn and know that his heart is not in there, they just threw it away.” Her fight now is to protect other families from the unthinkable. She says it’s what Justin would have wanted.
Senate bill 9 was set to be voted on this week but was sent back to the governmental affairs committee. It could come up for a vote again after lawmakers return from spring break.
If you would like to find out more about Justin’s story, go to his Facebook page Justin’s Heart. https://www.facebook.com/JustinsHeart2/