BALDWIN CO. (WALA)- Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill outlawing medical examiners from removing an organ from a body without notifying next of kin.
It was a bill Donna Atkins has been fighting for for years. Her 17 year old son, Justin Crooks, died from an aneurysm behind his heart.
It wasn't until a court hearing in a wrongful death lawsuit years later that Atkins learned something horrible.
Atkins said, "My attorney told me that he tried to prepare me that they kept his heart, the forensic department, and they were going to have it in trial. Yeah, that kind of freaked me out. This is like the invasion of the body snatchers you know. How can you do this?"
Atkins had her son cremated and never knew his heart was missing.
According to a report from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, Justin's heart was disposed in 2013, six years after his death.
"I talked with the legal guy of the forensic department, Mark Bass, and he said 'Oh they take eyes, hearts, brains, whatever they deem necessary. They don't tell the loved ones, because it would be upsetting and there was no law that said they can, there was no law that said they couldn't," said Atkins.
Through calls, letters, emails and even speaking to the Alabama Senate in person, Atkins fought, determined to get a law passed making it illegal for a medical examiner to remove an organ without letting the next of kin know and it finally happened. Governor Kay Ivey signed the bill into law Wednesday.
"Today's been probably one of the best days I've had in a very long time. To lose someone so beautiful, something good had to come out of it," said Atkins.
According to this law, there's really no penalty if a medical examiner does remove a body part without notifying family. Atkins' advice to anyone who loses a loved one, is to ask if any of their organs have been removed before burying or cremating them.