Memorial honors bodies donated to science
Service reveres those who gave 'ultimate gift of human concern'
Barton Glasser, Deseret News
University of Utah medical student Elisa Bushman got to know "Carl" after he spent a year teaching her about the human body. She'll always remember shaking his hand before she tucked the white sheet around his lifeless body.
"I wouldn't know half of what I know if it weren't for him," she said of the man whose body was donated to the school for science.
Bushman spoke Friday during a memorial service at the Salt Lake City Cemetery for the 121 bodies donated to the U. last year.
Every year, the College of Health Sciences honors the men and women and their families who "give the ultimate gift of human concern," said Ed Junkins, U. dean for diversity and community outreach. "I can't completely wrap my head around what your loved ones do for the cause of humanity."
Donors typically make the decision to give their body to science while they are living, for reasons that are different for everyone, said program director Kerry Don Peterson. The result furthers medical research and development in many ways, as well as educates future and current health professionals.
"My mom was an environmentalist before it was sexy," said Barbara Luke. "Just like the paper she used to tear up and bury in the back yard, her body was used and then turned around to be used again for medical research."
Shaun Mendenhall, who just completed his second year at the U. medical school, wrote a letter to the man whose body he had spent countless hours examining, saying he'd always remember his first cut with a scalpel, his first look at real human cells, nerves and muscles, and anytime he works with a stroke or heart-attack patient in the future, "I'll remember you, Fred, and your heart and brain that I held in my hands."
Several medical students attended the service, "as a way to say thank you," said Dean Todd, who is leaning toward pediatric medicine. "These are magnificent individuals … who see a greater good outside of themselves."
The program respectfully keeps the cadavers for three months to two years and then provides cremation services for the family, also offering to bury the ashes in a grave site at the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Peterson said he estimates nearly 3,000 people are buried in one of three double-vaulted plots at the cemetery, marked with a commemorative grave stone. The names of many of them are contained on the Celebration of Life Monument at Library Square, along with organ and super blood donors.
"These are decent, good people working on the bodies," Peterson said, adding that thousands of research projects start with access to a deceased human body.
Currently, he said, doctors and students are researching methods to improve artificial limbs, determine the role genetics play in disease and restore paralyzed muscles.
"Every day, someone figures out something new in the field of medicine," Peterson said. "Ironically, we live and learn from those who die and teach."
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