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Donor Memorial Ceremony 2017

Students Show Gratitude to Whole Body Donors

(April 19, 2018) Aurora, Colo. - Students at the Anschutz Medical Campus gathered Thursday to show their gratitude to the men and women who donated their remains to train future health care workers.

Five student speakers told the audience filled with students, and families and friends of donors that the lessons they learned from the donors will last a lifetime.

"When I meet a patient with nerve pain, I will picture your nerves. When I perform an abdominal exam, I will visualize your organs and when I listen for lung sounds, I will recall the awe of holding your final breath in my hands," said physician assistant student Liliana Hoverstein. "I will be think of you and visiting you in every patient that I see."

Many medical schools across the country are eliminating all or portions of their dissection labs in favor of new technology including three-dimensional modeling and virtual reality, medical student Madeline Huey said. She would not have changed anything about her experience in anatomy class.

"It's hard to fathom another way," Huey said. "The wonder that came from uncovering the brachial plexus found here in our arms. The meticulous care to separate arteries from veins and nerves as they cross paths; intrically woven into a network of information highways. I would go home after lab in awe of the human body."

Holding cancer-ridden lungs in her hands, Huey knew that the donor's story "was likely filled with pain and suffering matched by reslience, love and gratitude."

The gift of the donor will "influence how I treat my first, second and one-thousandth patient."

Most of the students said they would have liked to have known details about their donor's life. " I know you've lived a full life and it would be amazing to have heard your perspective on it. On life, death and dying, and your past," physical therapy student David Kim.

Hoverstein said that knowing so much about the donor's body as opposed to the donor's life was unsettling.

"What an intimate, albeit imbalanced relationship we have. I know you and I don't know you. You were here but you were never here at all. I know things about you that you didn't even know about yourself, and that seems like an undue privilege. I've seen that your brachial artery splits by your armpit instead of your elbow, that your right kidney is much higher than your left and that your back muscles are suprisingly strong and thick for your 92-year-old frame."

Everything we experience comes through our body, dental student Riley Johnson said. "A lifetime is so short and yet it is the longest thing that we have or will ever experience."

For Elizabeth Gonzales' mother, a shortened lifetime was still long enough to experience many of her heart's desires. 

Born in 1964, she studied in Honduras, became a chiropractor, had four children, worked full time and loved gardening, astronomy, Star Trek, museums, self-defense classes and travel. Brain cancer cut her life short, but she did as much as she could with her time including a river boat cruise on the Mississippi River and a trip to Japan with her children.

"She knew she wanted to donate her body from the moment of her diagnosis. She wanted to help people even after she was gone."