This month, students in the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine (PLFSOM) hosted the school’s third annual Willed Body Memorial Service honoring those who have donated their bodies to medical education.
The donor memorial is sponsored by the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS), an organization that recognizes students, residents, and faculty who exemplify humanism in medicine — a major point of emphasis in the PLFSOM curriculum.
In their first year of medical school, students are paired with the remains of a donor — who they refer to as their first patient — for lessons in clinical human anatomy. When they meet their patients, the students are given the donor’s first name and cause of death. As the students progress through their anatomy lessons, they learn more about their patient’s medical history through dissection. After one to two years of service to the program, the donor’s remains are cremated and either returned to the next of kin or buried in a local cemetery.
“What touched me most today was the students that talked of their sincere respect for the bodies,” said Karen Wagner, whose parents both donated their bodies to the program. “The students had a chance to get to know them through their bodies.”
In remembrance of their gift, the service included student orations, artwork, and musical performances. For Patrick O’Malley (class of 2017), president of the PLFSOM chapter of the GHHS, the Willed Body Memorial is an opportunity to express gratitude to the donors and their families in a personal and meaningful way.
“I remember meeting my donor in the first few days of medical school,” he said. “For me, the only experience I had with someone who was deceased were my grandparents, all of whom I lost before medical school. In a way, that’s why I was affected as I was, because I knew when I met my donor that this was someone’s grandmother, too. Thinking about that was profound to me.”
For Nancy Mejias, whose husband recently donated his body, the memorial symbolized a dream fulfilled.
“Augustín Mejias had a dream. He always dreamed of donating his body to science,” she said. “He did so much when he was alive, and he’s doing much more now that he’s gone.”
Often, the Willed Body Memorial is the only service for the family of a loved one who has chosen to donate their body — donor bodies must be preserved immediately after death, limiting time for a memorial service.
About TTUHSC El Paso’s Willed Body Program:
Before becoming a freestanding university in 2013, TTUHSC El Paso received its donor bodies from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) in Lubbock, Texas. TTUHSC El Paso began supporting its own Willed Body Program in 2014. To date, the program has received 100 donations and more than 350 individuals have pledged to donate their bodies to the program when they pass.
Photos by Tommie Morelos, Office of Institutional Advancement.