Organ donation or theft? family seeks answers on missing body parts

Amani Justine Luwali photo organs missing

A photo of Amani Justine Luwali provided by her family. A post-mortem conducted at the Malindi Referral Hospital mortuary revealed she was missing vital organs when it was brought back from Italy.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Luwali left Kenya in 2016 with her Italian husband.
  • Some European countries automatically register citizens, residents as organ donors. 

When the body of Amani Justine Luwali arrived in Kenya from Italy, it came with instructions from her in-laws for her family not to open the coffin, but to proceed with burial.

“But how do we bury someone without confirming it was indeed her? Not opening the coffin is against our culture. This and other information we had received made us curious,” says her mother, Josephine Nzingo.

So the family not only opened the coffin, but what they found made them insist on a post-mortem examination. Ms Nzingo says that the family was shocked to discover that the body had been stitched in several places.

The post-mortem examination conducted at the Malindi Referral Hospital mortuary revealed the body was missing vital organs, including the heart, kidneys and liver, major blood vessels, and eyeballs.

The big question is: Was Luwali an organ donor, or were parts of her body stolen?

Luwali left Kenya in 2016 with her Italian husband. The couple had a daughter, according to her older brother James Karisa.

However, there was trouble in paradise; the family says she suffered violence from her husband. 

The family of Amani Justine Luwali whose body was brought back to Kenya from Italy with missing organs. With them is Mathias Shipeta of Haki Africa, a human rights lobby group, who urged a speedy investigation into the woman's death.

Photo credit: Farhiya Hussein I Nation Media Group

“When we talked in March, my sister had informed me she had filed for divorce, but her husband rejected the idea and he did not even show up for the hearings,” Karisa says.

Then the bad news came.

“We learnt of my sister’s demise on September 27. We received a phone call from one of our relatives in Italy informing us that she was found dead in her house,” says Karisa.

On hearing about the cremation plans, the family started working to bring her body home.

“Her body was flown to Kenya on October 27,” says Karisa.

When Luwali's body was found, it had dried blood on the nose and mouth, which is part of the reason her family ordered a post-mortem examination.

Luwali was 35 when she died.

“The appearance of the body revealed her eyes to be sunken but her eyelids were together. Under the cardiovascular system, the body was missing the heart, and all major blood vessels including the aorta,” reads the post-mortem report seen by the Nation.

“Both kidneys and patella (kneecap) of both right and left lower limbs were also missing and bone marrow was extracted. Both her left and right eyeballs were missing and replaced by plastic oval objects.”

The report said the cause of death could not be determined due to “missing vital organs ... It appears organ harvesting has been done”.

The family reported the matter to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) in Malindi, which is investigating, and to Interpol. It has also urged the Italian government to intervene.

Luwali’s body will remain at the Star Hospital mortuary in Malindi, as per the family’s wishes, until the cause of death is established, the Nation found out yesterday. The burial, which was set for next week, has been suspended, pending approval from the DCI.

While all this was happening, including the preliminary examination of the body, Luwali's husband was not present, having chosen to remain in Italy.

Dr Gabriel Mutungi, who has lived in the United Kingdom for more than 35 years, explained organ donation, and offered a possible explanation of what might have happened in Luwali’s case.

“Most European countries run an organ donation service where most healthy organs from deceased persons are harvested and transplanted to deserving recipients. Every citizen is automatically enrolled and one has to apply to opt out of the scheme. Therefore, I think there was no foul play and Ms Luwali’s organs were harvested and used for transplantation in such a scheme,” he said.

According to Dr Mutungi, most western nations offer free healthcare to all their citizens and permanent residents.

“All the organs for transplantations are obtained, for free, from people who die from non-infectious conditions such as road accidents, suicide,” he explained.

He went on: “As the late Ms Luwali was African, her bone marrow would also have been harvested as it is difficult to get donors of African origin in these countries. I assume the late Ms Luwali had not opted out from the organ donor register and did not die of an infection. Therefore, her organs were harvested.”