Navy Doctor Let His Kids Hold Dead Marine's Brain

12:00 PM, Jul 16, 2012   |    comments
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Washington, DC (written by Joshua Stuart/Military Times) -- A Navy pathologist has been reassigned to an administrative position for letting his children handle the brain of a deceased Marine Corps sergeant while his wife took pictures in their home.

Cmdr. Mark Shelly, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, admitted to the Virginia Board of Medicine to mishandling the deceased Marine's brain while it was transported from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Portsmouth Naval Hospital, board records show.

When the military learned of it, Shelly was moved to a position at Portsmouth where he no longer performs autopsies. The medical board fined him $2,500 on June 28 and closed the case Tuesday after he paid the fine.

Shelly could not be reached for comment, but in a letter to the board he said he used "extremely poor" judgment.

Shelly was a regional medical examiner and would travel to different medical facilities to perform autopsies, a position that allowed for examinations without having to ship a person's entire remains, said Paul Stone, a spokesman for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office at Dover Air Base, Del.

According to the board's summary of the incident, after performing a Dec. 20 autopsy on the sergeant at Naval Hospital Camp Lejune, Shelly transported the sergeant's brain in a "stock jar" to his home. While there, he took the brain out of the jar, and allowed his children to hold it while his wife took pictures. The next day, he took the brain to Portsmouth to be preserved for a neuropathological exam.

Stone said the exam was necessary because no obvious cause of death had been discovered.

A pathologist at Portsmouth said the incident at Shelly's home did not impact his ability to determine the cause of death, board records said.

Navy officials agreed that Shelly's actions were inappropriate.

"We strive to treat all of our patients, living and deceased, and their families, with the utmost dignity and respect," said Capt. Dora Lockwood, a spokeswoman for the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Besides the fine, Shelly was fired Jan. 19 from his position as a medical examiner for the Tidewater, Va., region, a job he held in addition to his career with the Navy. He hadn't told the service about his other employment, board records show.

The state licensing board learned about the incident Jan. 17 from an anonymous tip, a Navy official said. Stone said Shelly told the chief medical examiner at Dover what had happened after the board informed him of the allegations. The medical examiner suspended Shelly and visited the Marine's family to tell them what had happened.

Medical personnel had been allowed to transport human specimens stored in a proper container between locations and were allowed to make stops along the way, but those rules were changed Jan. 20. It's unclear if this incident prompted the new rules.

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