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Donor Memorial Ceremony

Students Show Gratitude to Whole Body Donors

(April 11, 2016) Aurora, Colo. - Long after their final anatomy class, students at the Anschutz Medical Campus will remain grateful to the men and women who donated their remains to train future health care workers.

"Body donation is a truly unselfish gift, because it cannot be reciprocated. All I can give in return to the woman who donated her body to my education is one of memory," said medical student Taylor Goodstein, class of 2019 . "So if I could, to my donor, I say this: I see your body in the world around me. I see your muscles dancing when I see someone dance. I trace the origin of tendons along your tendons. When I think of arteries, they are your arteries, hearts are your heart. You are my foundation of medicine."

Goodstein and students from the CU physician assistant, physical therapy, human anatomy programs and the schools of medicine and dental medicine 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 seed packets paraphrasing educator Henry Adams: A teacher affects eternity. They can never tell where their influence ends.

Students said they found the anatomy lessons changed their view of the world.  

"When you enter the shadow of medicine, you do it with the knowledge that you will one day have to face hard truths, reflect on your personal beliefs and foster a relationship with death," Goodstein told hundreds in the audience. "When you turn on the fluorescent lights for your first anatomy lab, you realize that day is closer than you thought."

Cristianna Ruple, physician assistant student class of 2018, said that the more students learned about the body, the more they wondered about the person.

"It evolved that we would affectionately call him Buddy and we said hi to him every Tuesday and Thursday. We would talk to him throughout the process and would thank him at the end of the day. As we explored our buddy further, we unlocked the clues that only the human body could tell us. But they were just facts, clues into a life that we didn't know about.

"What was our buddy's life like? Did those arms hold grandbabies or embrace those who he loved. Did those eyes experience war? Did those hands toil in a factory or a field? Was his passing peaceful?"

After the students spoke, audience members filled in some details on the lives of donors. Among those remembered were teachers, soldiers, businesspeople, singers, nurses, and above all, fathers, mothers, grandparents, spouses, siblings and caretakers.

Many speakers said body donation is a family tradition.

"Our entire family is donating their bodies to the Colorado Anatomical Society," said one woman. "We're so grateful we can provide a real body for students to study because they don't learn much from plastic bodies with plastic hearts and plastic brains."

Several donors had suffered from numerous illnesses and injuries and believed their body would provide a good teaching tool. One man had several joints and bones replaced.

"He informed the doctor that they would be getting all of this back once the warranty was up," his widow said.

Another woman said her husband had a heart transplant on top of many other maladies.

"He thought he would be an interesting case study," she said. "So I hope you learn lots because that's what he wanted."