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Families of body donors say altruism motivates gift

September 26, 2022

During the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Body Donor Memorial Service, friends and family said a desire to help others was the driving force behind why their loved ones gifted their bodies to science.

More than 500 people, including medical and physical therapy students, faculty and staff attended the memorial, held Sept. 16, at the Heritage Hall on the Athens campus. At the ceremony, which was  livestreamed for families who couldn’t attend and those on the college’s Cleveland and Dublin campuses, students extended their condolences but also their deep appreciation. During his remarks, Dylan Nunn, a second-year student at the Heritage College, said that during medical school orientation, the dean of admissions told students to look to their left and right and recognize that the people around them would one day touch hundreds of thousands of lives.

An HCOM student speaks at the body donor memorial program

“That promise could not have been made had it not been for the generosity of your loved ones. They taught us more than I ever thought possible. They helped us visualize and understand concepts that we could not be taught otherwise, and because of this, we will be able to better care for our patients,” said Nunn. “Those ‘hundreds of thousands of lives’ touched are a direct result of your loved one’s contribution.”

“I have personally helped teach anatomy for years and we consider your loved ones our first patients for our new medical students,” said Heritage College Executive Dean Ken Johnson, D.O. Anatomy class is often one of the most profound and important experiences for medical and health professions students, providing critical knowledge they will carry with them during their careers.

Leah Allen, a second-year student from Heritage College, Dublin told attendees that as a student doctor’s first patient, donors impart many lessons that cannot be learned through lectures.

“With this learned knowledge, we can guarantee that their legacies not only lie with each of you but will also carry on by impacting generations of patients and their families throughout our careers,” she said.

Physical therapy student Katherine Gatt pointed out that what is learned in anatomy class does more than impart knowledge to help with the examination and diagnoses of patients.

“We learn not only the complexities of the human anatomy but the privilege of life itself. We are reminded daily of your loved ones’ selflessness and sacrifice and as such look upon them with the utmost respect and dignity,” she said. “Know that your loved one’s sacrifice is woven into my life and the lives of my classmates. We are eternally humbled to have received their gift.”

In her remarks, Tracy Shaub, D.O, interim dean of the Heritage College, Athens thanked the donors and their loved ones for the gift, saying she hoped those attending would find strength and solace knowing that countless lives would be touched. 

We don’t know who is going to discover the next breakthrough in cancer or heart disease or diabetes,” she said. “Thank you very much for your dedication and your gift.”

HCOM students attend the body donor memorial

Bruce Stoker, minister of the Athens Church of Christ, asked those in attendance to not let tragedy and grief defeat them, but to find healing and comfort by thinking about the good brought about by their loved ones’ gift. Then, he turned to the students with words of advice.

“As helpful as they are and have been in training your minds and your hands, take note of their selfless act, the act that brought you together, and let them train your hearts as well,” he said. “Continue to remember and reflect on what they have given you so that you’ll be brilliant and skillful in your everyday practice but also to be compassionate and selfless in those moments of tough decisions. Study and work with them to be good at what you do but also to do good through what you do.”

Many friends and family reflected on their loved ones’ altruism, love of education and desire to provide one last act of service, saying this is what motivated them to donate their bodies to science.

“His feelings were if I can help one person if I can help save somebody’s life by donating my body then that’s a good thing to do,” one woman said of her husband.

 Several others mentioned that they too had decided to become a donor and hoped the students would use this gift to help others.

“It’s just tremendous to know that this is going on and that there are ways for people, average people just like us to help,” said the family member of another donor.

Those interested in learning more about the body donor program can call 740.593.2171.