Woman tests heart’s authenticity

A Daly City woman suing San Mateo County and its coroner for $10 million for giving her dead son’s heart to a research lab is now having the organ’s DNA tested because she has grown suspicious the organ may be a fake.

Selina Picon will have DNA tests done on the heart to ensure it was indeed the organ of her son Nicholas when he died in 2006 at age 23. Picon sued county coroner Robert Foucrault and the county in October for property damage, personal injury and punitive damages after the coroner planned to give the heart to Stanford University for medical research without notifying the Picon family. Foucrault recently gave Picon the heart.

The organ is being stored in a bubble-wrapped jar and has never been opened by Picon. She and her husband, Joe, are part Native American, and she said the heart will rest with either of them because they do not believe in disturbing their son’s burial ground.

She said the lawsuit, and the uncertainty of the heart’s DNA results, were fueled by the county after officials were unapologetic in dealing with her concerns.

“I don’t even know if it’s my child’s heart,” Picon said.

Picon’s attorney, Ayanna Jenkins-Toney, said if the heart turns out to be a fake, she would be able to prove Picon’s claims of suffering and deprivation more easily.

County Counsel Michael Murphy said he has no concerns about the testing.

“We returned the son’s heart,” Murphy said.

A fourth claim in the lawsuit alleging 14th Amendment violations was dismissed by U.S. Circuit Court Judge Samuel Conti last week. Jenkins-Toney, however, said she is filing an appeal to either the U.S. Supreme Court or U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile, Jenkins-Toney is seeking a jury trial in three claims against the county. She said she would meet with county attorneys after the case is remanded to the San Mateo County Superior Court and that she hopes a jury would pick an exact dollar figure for the lawsuit. Picon sought $10 million to punish the county when filing the lawsuit, Jenkins-Toney said.

When the lawsuit was filed, Foucrault said he had been operating with the organ research law for more than 20 years, and this was the first time a complaint of this kind happened.

Murphy said he is confident the remaining three claims will be dismissed before any jury trial. The federal clause was the most significant one filed, he said.

“We feel confident enough that we don’t think [losing in court] is a possibility,” Murphy said.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

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