Students grateful for having learned from human bodies
A medical helicopter flyby and a vocal rendition of “Shall We Gather at the River” began the moving ceremony honoring those who donated their bodies to the UT Health Science Center San Antonio for educational purposes.
During the ceremony, held May 1, faculty members and students expressed their appreciation to family members of the deceased for the opportunity to teach and learn using the human body.
“This service is surely dedicated to those who, in death, have offered their bodies to serve the living,” said Omid Rahimi, Ph.D., Distinguished Teaching Professor and director of the Human Anatomy Program in the School of Medicine’s Department of Cellular & Structural Biology.
The bodies are studied by students in the School of Medicine, Dental School, and in the Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Physician Assistant Studies programs of the School of Health Professions.
The willed bodies are cherished gifts in the education of students through which they learn anatomy but also character, respect, humility and compassion, said Nan Clare, M.D., senior associate dean of the School of Medicine. “With great humility and awe I wish to offer a salute of honor to the donors and their families,” Dr. Clare said.
Nita Wallace, Ph.D., interim dean of the School of Health Professions, said willed bodies are “pay-it-forward gifts” that prepare students for the future.
Students express their thanks to families
The first student speaker, Patrick Dideum, president of the first-year class from the School of Medicine, said he spent the year with three other students learning from a wonderful teacher. “We are here to honor those who gave beyond their time on earth,” Dideum said. “We honor our first patient, first teacher and first benefactor.”
Amanda Snyder, president of the first-year physician assistant (PA) studies students explained, “Since January, when our PA class entered the anatomy laboratory to meet the willed body donors and learn from them, we have been in a continual state of reflecting, of fixing our thoughts on the bodies and their sacrifice to science. I remember as we left the classroom the first day we discussed what a privilege and an honor it was to have an opportunity to work with fellow humans instead of a computer program or other mammalian species. We talked about how unbelievable it was that these individuals had willingly donated their bodies in the name of education and medicine. It was a weekly process of reflection, and just when we would get used to the idea of having human cadavers as learning resources, we would learn something the next week and remember how fortunate we are to have this opportunity.”
First educators of new medical students
Kyle King, president of the first-year class of dental students, told the families: “Mother, father, sister, brother, grandparent or friend — each of your loved ones had a different history and a different story to tell. I imagine some were business professionals, stay-at-home moms, industry workers or volunteers — but to us they were educators. They were there as we first began this journey to become health care providers — and teach us they did. The lessons taught by them could never be comprehended by traditional methods: listening to a lecture, studying images from textbooks or by researching a particular disease. Because of your loved one, we saw firsthand the magnitude and intricacies of the human body.”
Improving lives of future patients
Tiffany Neal, president of the 2012 graduating class of physical therapy students, said, “This experience we have been fortunate to obtain this semester in our third and final year of school, has allowed us to review and solidify the knowledge gained during our first year in gross anatomy lab and help us to grow in confidence as we begin our careers. This experience has been life changing and eye opening. It helps to remind us that we belong here and we will accomplish the necessary tools to obtain success as clinicians treating patients.”
Jonathan Zamarripa, a first-year master’s in occupational therapy student, added, “Our experience has left us with more than just the ability to have learned about human anatomy. We leave with the experience of knowing we have a responsibility to uphold the wishes of the donor to seek out all ways to enrich the lives of others.”
Dr. Rahimi thanked UTSA vocal music graduate students and their director, John Nix, coordinator of UTSA’s Voice Area, for performing at the ceremony. He also thanked San Antonio AirLIFE, a nonprofit helicopter medical transport service funded by Baptist Health System and the University Health System, for the helicopter flyby at the beginning of the ceremony.
The cremated remains of the bodies are buried in the UT Health Science Center Memorial Cemetery, located behind the McDermott Clinical Science Building on the Greehey Academic and Research Campus.
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