(AP) — It sounded ghoulish enough: a shipment of 18 frozen human heads discovered and seized by customs officials during routine X-ray screening of cargo arriving at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Turns out the heads were used for medical research in Italy and were being returned for cremation in Illinois. The holdup was due to a paperwork problem.
It just so happens such shipments are commonplace, and heads — quite a few of them — crisscross the globe via airplane and delivery truck.
"Just last week, we transported eight heads, unembalmed, to Rush University Medical Center for an ophthalmology program," said Paul Dudek, vice president of the Anatomical Gift Association of Illinois, which supplies cadavers and body parts to medical schools in the state for training students.
His association sends about 450 whole cadavers to medical schools each year and also ships individual body parts, including about a dozen shipments of heads annually.
The heads are used for training in fields such as dentistry, ophthalmology and neurology, where they are used for Alzheimer's research. They are also used to train plastic surgeons and by students learning to perform facial reconstructions on accident and trauma victims, Dudek said.