Annual donor memorial service held at USD

Annual donor memorial service held at USD
Every year The University of South Dakota's Sanford School of Medicine receives up to 40 donated bodies, mostly from South Dakotans. These bodies are used in the human gross anatomy class, but are much more than just tools. According to Paul Bunger, dean of student affairs, they serve multiple purposes.

"They help focus students on the individuality and humanity of future patients," said Dr. Bunger at the second annual donor memorial service. "They act as facilitators ? and teachers."

More than 200 students, faculty, staff and donor families attended the celebration, which was held in the United Church of Christ in Vermillion.


"I think ?thank you' is the most important thing to say," said Marty Walsh, a first year physical therapy student. "I am so proud that USD has this program. Emphasizing the people that got us where we are made me proud."

Students expressed their gratitude for the bodies that were donated during 2005. A second-year member of each the physical therapy, occupational therapy, physician assistant and medicine programs, as well as a faculty member, spoke in reflection and thanksgiving for the 36 charitable people who deeded their bodies to the medical school.

"The gift of a person's body for donation is one of the most humble actions one can make," said Carl Dean, a second-year medical student.

For many students, the gross anatomy course is a life-changing experience. The lessons learned during long hours in the gross anatomy lab are not limited to anatomical knowledge. In actuality, donors are students' first patients, and are probably the most patient patients that students will ever encounter.

"At the heart of medicine, there are very real people," said Ashley Gilchrist, a second year medical student, who spoke at the event. "To the families and friends who are with us today please know how indebted and grateful we are to you and be rest assured that we took very good care of your loved ones."�

While the service allows students to take a step back and analyze the experience from a different perspective, Bunger said the service is also an opportunity for families to reaffirm the decisions of their loved ones. Some families are surprised by the impact that their family members have on students.

"Many family members say that they didn't know that it meant so much," said Jane Gavin, director of medical anatomical laboratories. "And for our students, the service offers a sense of closure. There is both an emotional and educational impact."

The donor memorial service at USD had its inception last year after Gavin and Carleen McNeely, a program assistant who has worked with the body donation program since 1993, attended the University of Iowa's memorial service. McNeely says she found it very moving.

"It is important for donor's families to know what a wonderful gift body donation is and to know that their loved one was treated with respect," said McNeely. "I think the second year was just as moving as the first."

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