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Valley family mourns loss of teen son, shocked by mortuary mix-up

By Laura Yanez, News Reporter, Laura.Yanez@cbslocal2.com
Published On: Jan 30 2013 02:15:02 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 05 2013 03:29:01 AM CST
CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. -

Manuel Dagnino of Desert Hot Springs and his family showed us pictures of his son Emilio on Friday night.

"He was a very strong son. A very strong boy," said Dagnino.

When Emilio received a heart transplant at 5 weeks old, he went into cardiac arrest, sustained brain damage and faced a lifelong struggle to survive. His family says he was a fighter.

"All these 17 years he has fought. He has come close to death and would always bounce back," said Dagnino.

This time was different. On New Year's Eve, the 17-year-old died at Loma Linda University Medical Center. The family now copes with the loss of the teen who loved music and the color blue.

"He was fine as long as he had his favorite song, Bruno Mars 'It will rain.' He died in our arms listening to that song," said Teresa Polendo, Emilio's sister.

Preparing funeral arrangements, Polendo went to Forest Lawn in Cathedral City this week for an estimate on a burial, but says she did not enter a verbal or signed agreement with the mortuary.

The Dagninos chose Santana Mission Chapel in Cathedral City instead.

"They called me and told me, 'Manuel, sorry Loma Linda has already released your son to Forest Lawn.' I got so upset," said Dagnino.

He says Forest Lawn picked up his son's body at the hospital without permission.

"Me having to tell my mother her son was picked up by somebody who was not authorized was the hardest thing I've had to do."

The family contacted Forest Lawn immediately.

"All she could do was offer apologies, a cremation, and a burial in Covina. I was in shock." said Polendo.

We also called Forest Lawn. Vice President Larry Davis agrees the mortuary did not get written consent and apologizes, but did what it thought the family asked it to do in its time of need.

Davis says that Forest Lawn immediately released Emilio's body to the mortuary of the family's choice.

The Dagninos just hope it doesn't happen to another family again.

"I just hope Forest Lawn learns from this and be aware," said Polendo.

"I'm just so torn apart, trying to keep my family together. Everybody's grieving," said Dagnino.

To help pay for funeral costs, the Dagnino family is hosting a car wash from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Calvary Christian Center on the corner of Dinah Shore and Cathedral Canyon in Cathedral City.