What Happens When We Die?

by Drew R. Hamilton

It’s the question that we all face.  It’s what sets mankind apart, the realization that time does not stop when we do.  Billions of dollars of revenue is generated off this very question, this desire of ours to know “what happens when we die?”

Hillsborough County Chief Medical Examiner Vernard Adams, who is board-certified in anatomical, clinical and forensic pathology, and holds a faculty appointment as Associate Professor of Pathology at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, knows the answers.

So what does happen when we die?  For an ill-fated fraction of the community, their bodies end up at the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office for examination.

Don’t get me wrong.  The M.E.’s office isn’t as bleak and depressing as one may think.  Aside from the dead bodies, the office is as aesthetically pleasing a work place as I have seen.  “If you notice, the building has a lot of natural light.  That is by design.  I think it’s important for our employees to work in natural light,” says Adams.

The recently constructed office is furnished with top of the line equipment and the facility is able to expand its body capacity with the ability to host up to 5 additional cold-storage trailers.

As Adams explained the office deals with 400 to 500 unclaimed bodies every year.  Bodies remain unclaimed when no next of kin can be found or the next of kin either can’t afford or prefers not to pay for the body’s remains.

The medical examiner’s office uses cremation as a means of disposal for unclaimed bodies.  Cremation reduces the cost of processing the body 75 percent.

The other type of bodies the office deals with is cases of instantaneous death.  According to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s website, a medical examiner is “a physician with particular expertise in investigating violent, sudden and unexpected, suspicious or unattended deaths.”

Here is a list of the Medical Examiner’s jurisdiction:
•    criminal violence
•    accident, suicide, or by poison
•    suddenly, when in apparent good health
•    unattended by a practicing physician or other recognized practitioner
•    any prison or penal institution
•    police custody
•    any suspicious or unusual circumstance
•    criminal abortion
•    disease constituting a threat to public health, and
•    disease, injury, or toxic agent resulting from employment.

One way that Adams and the M.E.’s office provides a service to the community is through their participation in the National Unidentified Persons System or NamUs, a national database designed to provide information for the identification of unidentified bodies.

Here’s the story of an Ohio man who met his demise in Florida and the Hillsborough Medical Examiner’s Office was able to identify this body using networks like NamUs and The Doe Network, a volunteer group that searches the nation for online unidentified body information.

When lives fall through the deepest and most drastic of cracks, the county medical examiner is there to sift through the facts, hoping to piece together some closure for the community.

Investigative inquires may be made to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office by calling 813-914-4567 between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM daily.

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Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 9:48 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Natural light is best when working in such a bleak area.


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