Students include cadavers’ families in memorial service

by Sean Madigan

When first-year medical students walk into the gross anatomy laboratory for the first time, the sight of a cadaver can be unnerving.
But the bodies under the sheets, lying cold and stiff across the tables, are not simple anatomical teaching tools — they are people.
More than 300 first-year medical students, faculty and the families of the cadavers they study gathered in Coffman Union’s Great Hall on Monday night to honor those who generously donated their bodies to science.
The fifth annual Anatomy Memorial Service not only pays tribute to the people that bequeathed their bodies, but to their families as well.
“This is our expression of gratitude of their remarkable gift,” said Greg Parranto, a co-chairman of the event.
This year marked the second time the families of the donors were invited to the ceremony. More than 200 family members listened to a series of readings, including excerpts from Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Order of the Book” and Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric.” Between selections, a student string quartet played sonatas.
“I think it is important for students to know that it was a living, breathing person they are working with and that they had a family,” said Jeanne Smith, whose mother donated her body to the University.
Organizers of the event say the ceremony is also a way to draw closure to the students’ first laboratory experience.
“The very first time you are actually cutting into a human being … that takes a lot to process, emotionally,” said Melody Jakola, a first-year medical student.
The anatomy laboratory is the first time students step away from textbooks and explore the true human body. The laboratory functions as a practical learning environment.
Dr. Ronald Shew, the gross anatomy course director, pointed out the difference between anatomy diagrams and tangible body parts. In textbooks, he said, “everything is classic. But in the laboratory, there are some real anomalies, some real differences.”
Anatomy is at the core of a physician’s education, said Greg Vercellotti, the senior associate dean of education at the Medical School.
“There is a real sense of wonderment when they actually hold a human heart in their hand for the first time.”