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Donor Memorial Ceremony 2017

Students Show Gratitude to Whole Body Donors


(April 21, 2017) Aurora, Colo. - Long after their final anatomy class, students at the Anschutz Medical Campus will remember the lessons taught by the women and men who donated their remains to train future health care workers.

"Anatomy is the cornerstone of medicine, and our donors truly are our first teachers," first-year medical student Priya Krishnan said. "They illuminate the brilliance of the human body to us. More importantly, they urge us to contemplate the transience of life and the certainty of death, issues we will engage with daily as we care for patients."

Krishnan and students from the Modern Human Anatomy program and the School of Dental Medicine spoke Friday at the annual Donor Memorial Ceremony on campus to thank the family and friends of anonymous donors. 

Students chose the theme of resonance for this year's ceremony, noting the "ripple-like effects of a transformative experience."

Working with patients in clinic, Krishnan was reminded of the lessons she first learned in anatomy class, and her appreciation grew.

"I really know how much they gave. To my donor: I promise to carry your story with me. I will strive forever to see the impressions of your sacrifice both within the clinic and without. You reminded me that we contain multitudes."

Braedon Alverson, a first-year dental school student, told the audience of more than 300 students and donors' loved ones that he often arrived at anatomy class before dawn.

​"As I watched the sunlight begin to illuminate our beautiful Rocky Mountain backdrop, I spoke to them of the beauty of the day, and how I was thankful for them being there with us. It became my morning ritual, and I will never forget that quiet time spent in the company of your dear ones.

"That may sound silly to some, but to speak personally, I lost my mother last year. I remember every moment. And though she is gone from this earthly plane, I still talk to her sometimes as well. I remember leaving her at the hospital after she had passed, and my only thought was for her well-being and care. I just wanted you all to know that you trusted us with your loved ones, and we honored that trust every day."

Sarah Beck-Pancer, Modern Human Anatomy Class of 2018,  said she was struck by her fellow students' respect and gratitude when learning from their "silent teachers."

"A plastic model can teach structures, but it cannot teach empathy. It cannot convey the humanity of what it means to age or suffer. And empathy is the most important quality to have as a health practitioner, teacher or person​."

After the students spoke, audience members contributed some details on the lives of donors. Among those remembered were an athlete, scientist, actor, cancer survivor, soldier and teacher. 

One woman said her father had first been on the Anschutz Medical Campus after World War II when it was still Fitzsimons Army Medical Center. A chemist, he was sent to Hiroshima as a medic. When he became ill, the Army sent him to Fitzsimons, where he spent half a year in quarantine because the doctors believed he might have radiation poisoning or tuberculosis. Pleurisy was the eventual diagnosis, but on the bright side he learned to play golf at the Fitzsimons course. 

As he was dying, he told his family he wanted to donate his body to science.

"He said he always had wanted to go to medical school."

Another woman said her mother lived 83 years, but "Alzheimer's disease took her sooner than that. 

"That's why we need the medical community. We need a cure for Alzheimer's ... Their body is a gift. And your gift is moving us forward in science."

Audience members gathered for an early dinner after the ceremony to share more donor stories. Students distributed small wooden boxes that contained seed packets and were wrapped with thank you notes from students.