Health sciences honors body donors

By Trent Lowe, Staff Writer

Amid violins and ukuleles was a feeling of gratitude for those who donated their bodies to science.

The U’s Health Sciences Center hosted a memorial service May 22 for people who donated their bodies to the U to be used for medical education. Family members, friends, medical students and administrators gathered at the Salt Lake City Cemetery, located in the Avenues, at the grave site dedicated to the donors.

“The giving of one’s body at death is truly an unselfish act,” said Ed Junkins, dean of the U’s department of Diversity and Community Outreach. “In death, these people continue to serve those who are living.”

The donated bodies offer a vast source of information for the medical profession, providing material for aspiring doctors and current professionals seeking more information.

“Body donors give life in a number of ways,” said Kerry Peterson, director of the U’s body donor program. “They are vital in a biomedical sense, but also in educating and re-educating professionals.”

Medical students were on hand to pay their respects, but also to give a firsthand account to the families of the donors of the importance of these bodies to higher education. Shaun Mendenhall, finishing his second year of medical school at the U, read a letter he wrote on behalf of himself and fellow students to Fred8212;whose last name was not given8212;the man who donated his body for their education.

“Thank you for teaching still,” Mendenhall read from the letter, “even though you’re no longer here.”

Human dissection is believed to have originated with the Greek physician Herophilus around 300 B.C. But it’s only been since 1832, when the United Kingdom passed the Anatomy Act, legalizing the use of corpses for educational purposes.

“It wasn’t strange for medical students to pay for their tuition in corpses instead of money,” Mendenhall said. “I’m glad we don’t have to do that anymore.”

The bodies provide integral experience for students and offer a chance to make mistakes and, in turn, learn to avoid fatal errors in the future.

“Old doctors learn new tricks through body donors,” Peterson said. “In medicine, nothing comes closer to learning human anatomy than the body itself.”

Family members of donors who donated their bodies between May 1, 2008 and May 1, 2009, were invited to participate in the memorial, which is held every year the Friday before Memorial Day.

“Some define “hero’ as one who gives their life for what he or she believes in, but no matter what definition of “hero’ you look at, body donors are all heroes,” Peterson said.

Protected from the hot sun by event tents, guests were also entertained with a musical number by two first-year medical students, Chelsea Stephenson and Nancy Vu. The students performed a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the violin and ukulele, bringing a lighter side to the memorial.

Many comments were made about the donors themselves, but most remarks were of gratitude and appreciation of the family members and friends of the donors.

“We are all in awe of this altruistic gift,” Peterson said. “We acknowledge your loss and appreciate the time you’ve allowed us to spend with your loved ones.”

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Lennie Mahler/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Family and friends of people who donated their bodies to science gather Friday at the Body Donor Program Grave Site in the Salt Lake City Cemetery for a memorial service hosted by the U Health Sciences Center.

Lennie Mahler/The Daily Utah Chronicle