USD honors families of loved ones who donated bodies to med school

Family members and friends light candles in honor of their loved ones who donated their bodies as part of the Body Donor Program. (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

It was a solemn afternoon Friday, Sept. 16, at the Andrew E. Lee Memorial Medical and Science Building the atrium of which was crowded for a memorial service honoring some important individuals.

Students and staff of the University of South Dakota were on-hand to pay their respects, as well as friends and family members of those who donated their bodies to the Body Donor Program.

Ann Settles, assistant professor of anatomy at the University of South Dakota, gives the keynote address at a memorial service honoring the individuals who donated their bodies to the Body Donor Program. The service took place Friday afternoon in the atrium of the Andrew E. Lee Memorial Medical and Science Building. (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

Those of us that work with the donors dont know them personally, but we learn a lot from them, said Dr. Paul Bunger, dean of Medical Student Affairs. They become our teachers, and they become the teachers for our students, as well as our faculty.

Ive been involved with this for quite a few years now 35, to be exact and recognize that I still learn when Im learning from the donor, he said.

The Sanford School of Medicine and the School of Health Sciences rely on the voluntary donation of bodies for medical and other professional health programs for the teaching of gross anatomy.

Fifty-one individuals donated their bodies to the program in 2010. Each of them was honored by a candle lit by family members and friends at the beginning of Fridays ceremony.

This marks the seventh year that such a ceremony has taken place.

Keynote speaker Ann Settles, an assistant professor of anatomy, described the body donation program as a remarkable opportunity for learning that grows more unique as schools move toward computer-based technology.

This is probably more cost-effective, less time-intensive than what we do but students lose that opportunity to see the very ability that exists in people, she said. Each body, each donor, has something different to teach.

Second-year medical student John Bannwarth said moving away from the physical aspect of anatomical study would deprive future students of an important part of their education.

There were countless moments throughout the semester when I left the classroom confused with a concept, but then had an ah-ha moment when I observed the material in the lab, he said. Discovering the anatomy of the human body is what this course is all about, and the cadavers used for the course serve as an invaluable tool for discovery.

Kristin Slette, second-year physical therapy student, agreed, saying that the experience of working with an actual body helped her learn more than computers or books ever could.

The Body Donation Program has personal meaning for Settles, as her late husband Harry was the former director of USDs gross anatomy course and went on to donate his body after he lost his battle with pancreatic cancer in 1999.

He knew that this was what he wanted to do, he knew the value of his gift and he knew that the students would treat his gift with care and the respect it deserved, she said. So, I was very proud of him for his decision, and of our children and his family for their support of his decision.

Teaching had been a huge part of my husbands life, and in this way, he was able to continue teaching even after his death, she said.

Harry Settles body was given to the University of North Dakota, and after his ashes were returned to his wife she had them buried in a Bluff View Cemetery plot dedicated to those who donated their bodies.

At the beginning of this service, a candle was lit for each of the 51 donors who were received in 2010. At the end of the service, their flames will be extinguished. But, please know that their life will continue on and truly make a difference in the lives of our students and in the lives of those who will be under their care, Ann Settles said. So thank you so much for your generosity and for your desire to benefit others in this unique way.

Bunger said many family members wonder if the donations will have some kind of positive outcome.

Its literally thousands and thousands of patients a day will someday be influences by practitioners that learned from your donor, he said. And so, your hope that something good would come out of the body donation that has been fulfilled.

Other speakers at the event included Tandis Hoffman, second-year physician assistant student, and Mary Jo Lee, second-year occupational therapy student.

Post-ceremony music was provided by the South Dakota Old-Time Fiddlers, one of whose members was a donor.

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