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Donor Memorial Ceremony

Students Show Their Gratitude to Whole Body Donors

(April 13, 2015) Aurora, Colo. - Long after their final anatomy class, students at the Anschutz Medical Campus will remember the generosity and courage of the men and women who donated their remains to train future health workers.

“Their lives and legacies will live on though each and every single one of us as a result of the nine weeks we intimately spent with them,” said Aleksandar Blubaum, School of Medicine class of 2018. “Your loved ones continue to live on with us in our hearts and minds, having had the invaluable impact of being our first patients.”

Blubaum and students from the CU physician assistant, physical therapy and human anatomy programs, the CU schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine and the University of Washington School of Medicine program at the University of Wyoming gathered Monday for the annual Donor Memorial Ceremony on campus to thank family and friends of the anonymous donors. 

Before the ceremony, students handed out white boxes tied with purple ribbons containing glass paperweights engraved with a Japanese proverb, “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher.”

Students said videos, books, white boards and lectures could not replace the lessons learned in anatomy class.

“We were able to have tangible and invaluable educational experiences that made the anatomy textbooks all the more real and impactful,” Samuel Colgate, Physician Assistant Program class of 2017, told the audience of more than 250. “We felt profound connections to them and always wondered about their stories. Our experience in the lab will stay with us not only the rest of our careers but for the rest of our lives.”

Grace Diehl, School of Dental Medicine class of 2018, said students were always mindful of the donors’ humanity.

“The health anatomy class provides us the opportunity to not only learn the name, functions and locations of thousands of individual structures within the human body, but learn how these thousands of structures make one individual....Each and every person made a difference in our lives and these ‘silent’ teachers taught us a tremendous amount, more than ever textbook ever could.”

Justin Romano, a University of Wyoming class of 2018 student who wrote and sang a song dedicated to the cadaver he worked on, whom he called June, reminded the audience of the far reach of the gifts.

"When you think of their sacrifice, I hope you think not only of a course of anatomy. I hope you think of surgeons removing cancer, radiologists locating congenital heart defects, ophthalmologists restoring sight.”

After the students spoke, audience members filled in some details on the lives of donors. Among those remembered was a breeder of schipperkes, a hard-living traveling salesman turned health enthusiast, a CPR and EMT volunteer trainer who helped found an ambulance service in rural Colorado, and an elementary school teacher who received a new heart from a 10-year-old boy 16 years before she died.

Two of the donors had signed the donation form with the State Anatomical Board in the mid-1960s, and their families were amazed that they were still on file. Another originally wanted to be an organ donor, but she had so many health issues she didn’t qualify.

One man, a poet and business owner who once played trumpet for the queen of England in World War II, endured five types of cancer, an angioplasty and, at the age of 91, a cranial surgery.

 “He was hoping that you weren’t hoping to see normal human anatomy,” his daughter told the students. “Science was always one step ahead of him, and he was so grateful for that.”