(April 26, 2013) AURORA -It wasn’t until the very last moment of the very last day of her anatomy class that CU medical student Claudia Nieuwoudt felt an emotional pull to the body she’d spent 12 weeks dissecting.
“I’m not close to either of my grandfathers,” she explained, saying neither approved of her career choice - one wanted her to become an engineer and the other wanted her to start having children. So when she saw the body of an elderly man in front of her, her only thought was to get started on the dissection. But on the final day when it was time to dispose of the body, “that’s where I got uncomfortable.”
“There was something so very wrong about tossing his remains away,” said Nieuwoudt , a member of the class of 2016 and one of five students to speak to hundreds of donors’ loved ones and health sciences students at the annual Body Donor Ceremony at Anschutz Medical Campus.
“He once had hopes, dreams, thoughts and ideas. And in a way I felt like I was throwing those things that make him human away with the pieces of tissue that got into my way of exposing the desired muscles. I finally realized that a human being was lying before me.”
Growing tearful, Nieuwoudt said she felt indescribably grateful that the man’s gift will help her reach her own ”hopes, dreams, thoughts and ideas.”
The sentiment was echoed by Rocky Vista medical student Ryan Greene, who said his epiphany came during a neuroscience course when he was learning about the neurological process that enabled people to make memories. “Time stood still and a flood of emotions overtook me.
“I realized that someone who had a lifetime's worth of memories, a lifetime's worth of emotions, love, happiness, sad times ... felt strong enough and cared enough about those they would never meet to donate their bodies so that we as osteopathic medical students would have the opportunity to become the best physicians we can possibly. I was left overflowing with gratitude and thanks.”
After the students spoke, families and friends of donors helped give color and personality to the anonymous donor bodies the students had dissected.
One woman recalled her mother as a spunky 5-foot-2 "doer," who retired to Mexico “because she needed a challenge.”
A son remembered one of his mother’s last acts was to hoist an old bicycle out of a dumpster so she could sell it.
Another man laughed as he told students about his wife who was told as a young woman that she would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. “She finally gave up softball and volleyball at age 44,” he said, shaking his head at her determination. He challenged students to find a cure for the rare disease that killed her.
Families returned the gratitude expressed by the students, who handed out bright yellow and white Gerbera daisies to guests.
One woman remembered that her husband was disappointed to learn he could not donate one of his kidneys to his son.
“So I cannot say how much this means to me that you have given him the opportunity to share his body with you and give you a chance to learn from it.”
Another said she appreciated “hearing you talk about our loved ones and hearing the gratitude and respectfulness for people who donate their bodies. It’s very touching and comforting. It has solidified my decision to donate my body as well.”
The grandson of a firefighter said that if he met his grandfather in heaven he would expect him to ask “Why are you all talking about me? All I did was give my body. I wasn’t going to use it anymore.”
A Donor Memorial Garden is under construction on the Anschutz Medical Campus. Read more about the garden >>