They are the first patients medical students at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) ever meet. But unlike a regular patient, they can’t tell the students what’s bothering them; they can’t thank the students for their time or help.
These patients have already passed away, and as a final act of giving, have donated their bodies to science so that medical students may learn first-hand the basics of human anatomy.
For centuries, students of the medical sciences have laid the foundation for their knowledge through human dissection. Be it Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century, Henry Gray in the 19th, or Catherine Howard, second-year medical student at the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine (PLFSOM) in the 21st, medical knowledge would not be where it is today without the hands-on exploration of the human form and all its inner workings.
On Monday, April 18, students of the PLFSOM held their second annual Willed Body Program Memorial Service to honor those who have donated their bodies.
The value of the donor program was apparent as each student gave their heartfelt thanks to the families of the donors in attendance. Students expressed their thanks in various ways. A few read original poems; a student choir sang twice and brought the room to tears; two students, classically trained in piano, performed arrangements from artists such as Franz Liszt, Ludovico Einaudi, and even the rock group Kansas; and Howard talked about her chance encounter with a future donor.
He was an elderly gentleman who Howard ran into one day on campus. She remembers how he walked slowly up three flights of stairs in the Medical Education Building. Twenty minutes later, when he walked slowly down those same stairs, he excitedly approached Howard with the news that he had just willed himself to the medical school. This chance encounter with a future donor gave Howard the opportunity to meet and thank a donor personally.
“I thanked him profusely,” said Howard. “He told me about his knee replacement and the screws in his neck. He was very excited to be able to donate. We’d all love to thank our donors personally, but this memorial service allows us to take time to really say thank you to the families of the donors.”
Like most memorial services, plenty of tears were shed for the departed, but it wasn’t just the sadness at the loss of a loved one causing tears. The genuine outpouring of gratitude from the students was overwhelming. Everyone in attendance — be it a donor family member, or faculty or staff member — felt and understood the magnitude of this final act of selflessness.
To date, TTUHSC El Paso has received more than 60 donor contributions and has signed up more than 250 future donors who are committed to donating their bodies to the school when they pass. For more information about the Willed Body Program, please contact Heather Balsiger at firstname.lastname@example.org.