ANN ARBOR: U of M Anatomical Donations Program honors body donors (with video)

September 25, 2012

Donating one's body to science is not an easy decision to make. Does their family support their sacrifice? Are they completely at peace with the idea of forgoing or postponing the ceremonial rites of mourning and burial?

The students of the University of Michigan Medical School expressed their gratitude to those donors and their families, who have provided the ultimate learning tool to the school's anatomy program.

The tradition of honoring these people dates back to the 1800s, according to Anatomical Donations Program Coordinator Dean A. Mueller, who headed the annual memorial service ceremony at Rackham Auditorium Wednesday evening.

Donor friends and family who attended listened to a series of speeches by medical students at various stages of their study.

"To the friends and families of those who have donated, I don't think we'll ever be able to thank you enough for your kindness and generosity," said Julie Blaszczak, who gave the first physician remarks.

Blaszczak shared her story of how she is able to study medicine because of support from a broad group of people, including her parents, advisors and friends a circle of people within which she includes donors and their families.

"I realized that these wonderful families and individuals have given us something so special without ever meeting us, without knowing anything about us," she said. "They have faith in the University of Michigan, in medicine and most importantly in all of us as future physicians. People have put themselves in our hands and they are expecting great things."

Blaszczak and many of the class of 2016 peers are just in the first weeks of the school's anatomy class.

"As first-year students, we are bright eyed and idealistic. We are getting to know our classmates and the reasons that they're studying medicine," said student Emily Chen. "I have received an impressive range of inspiring answers from my classmates, but they all seem to share one thing: the promise to care for another fellow person.

"However, I have found that the process of medical learning sometimes runs counter to that promise. The nature of medical education requires a certain amount of self centeredness, I must self learn, I must be self disciplined, have self control and be self sufficient. Medical education can quickly, if I am not careful, become about myself. My pursuit of truth. My pursuit for knowledge. My pursuit for excellence.

"These pursuits are not bad in and of themselves, but they cease to have value when I lose sight of the end goal of a physician: to care for another person. In the midst of this my times in anatomy class have been refreshing reminders of my decision to enter medicine. My donor has opened my eyes to privilege, anatomy classes which seem so routine to me, are opportunities that are beyond the imagination of most people, thus I have been challenged to be a better steward of my education and become the best doctor that I can be for my future patients.

"My donor has shown me bravely when I find myself anxious for an upcoming exam, I am reminded of the courage and selflessness of someone, who in the face of illness chose to give themself."

Having already completed anatomy, class of 2015 student Yashar Niknafs looked back retrospectively on his anatomy experience and his thoughts and feelings on body donation.

"I feel very strongly that everyone here should leave with a clear understand of what the act of donation really means," Niknafs said. "Anatomy is a rite of passage for us as budding physicians. Anatomy is one of the core foundations of medicine, to understand how the body works, to understand disease. But anatomy is also the start of something greater, understanding the role of the physician in a greater way."

Justin Lockrem, a class of 2015 student, recalled the exact date and time he met his donor: 2 p.m. Aug. 30, 2011.

"As I met my donor for the first time I was suddenly filled with questions. Who was he? What was his life like? Why is he here? What is his story?"

"Throughout the upcoming year his story gained a little clarity," Lockrem said. "Each week we would meet again and each day our donor would reveal another important chapter of his life. His callouses spoke of hard days of labor, scars were left as proof of successful medical procedures, strong muscle tone designated him as right handed, but left footed. His heart and lungs showed intense vigor and vitality. And finally I saw the after effects of radiation chemo therapy for metastatic cancer, which took him from this earth too soon."

"The body teaches us things that we simply can't learn from a text book, and allows us to form a solid foundation from which all other future diagnoses will be made."

This past year there were 300 body donors. There are 7,000 registrants for the anatomy program.

View video below by Chris Nelson.

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