Students Honor Anatomy Donors at Memorial
For first-year Weill Cornell Medical College student Kevin O'Rourke, his experiences in the anatomy lab viewing science and medicine through the prism of a patient — a donor — were as miraculous as the time he at 5-years-old saw his grandfather shaving his face for the first time.
"I remember how exciting it was to see something completely new," O'Rourke said.
|Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College
Photo credit: Amelia Panico
In the anatomy lab these past few months, he'd sneak glances at his lab partners as they translated textbook anatomic descriptions into scientific observation and experience by dissecting the bodies of those who chose to teach and inform even after death. The students' faces and expressions, he said, weren't any different than his when he saw his grandfather shave. Anatomy completely changed the way they understood life, he said.
O'Rourke, his fellow classmates in Weill Cornell's Class of 2015 and Medical College leadership gathered at Uris Auditorium April 17 to recognize and honor the gift their donors made in giving their bodies to further medical education. Donors' families and friends — and even a future donor — watched as students expressed their gratitude for their generosity.
"The story of my grandpa shaving his face is kind of silly, but it's really important to me and I offer it to you at this memorial service to illustrate just how incredibly life-changing this process has been for us," O'Rourke said. "The donors have truly changed the way we see our world. With that in mind, I thank them and their families for their gift. Rest assured; we will never forget them."
For many medical students, their first-year experiences in the anatomy lab are a turning point in their education, the moment at which concepts about science and medicine become reality. Textbook descriptions of anatomy become real during the 15-weeks in the lab as they learn from both their first patient and first attending.
|Musicians from the Weill Cornell Class of 2015 perform "They Live in You" by Elton John and Tim Rice at a memorial service honoring anatomical donors
Photo credit: Amelia Panico
"The 26 courageous people we are honoring today have made enormous contributions to accelerate the journey of discovery in medical education and science," said Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. "The selflessness of these 14 women and 12 men is a gift to all of us and for generations to come."
The two hour long memorial was punctuated by spiritual offerings, musical performances from Weill Cornell's Music and Medicine program as participants honored the donors and celebrated life, teaching and learning.
"There are few gifts as unique, as touching and as undeniably useful to society than a donation of a loved one to further the study of medicine," said Dr. Carol Storey-Johnson, senior associate dean of education at Weill Cornell.
The enrichment these donors have on medical education doesn't end at gross anatomy. A typical donor will provide a length of study of between 18 and 24 months, serving medical students as well as residents in a number of disciplines and medical subspecialties.
"Weill Cornell Medical College, our students and our residents benefit from the generosity of those who donate their bodies for the advancement of science," said Dr. Estomih Mtui, the director of the gross anatomy and body visualization program at Weill Cornell. "I think it's a good thought that donors continue to serve and teach even after death."
The decision to donate their bodies for scientific advancement is one donors at least 18-years-old can make even years before they die. Also, the next of kin or executor of estate or a friend of a recently deceased person may donate the remains as an anatomical gift.
Lulu Lanese, who is weeks away from her 87th birthday, decided 25 years ago that she wanted to donate her body to medical students at Weill Cornell. She felt compelled to speak during the memorial service, explaining why she chose to become a donor.
|Dr. Estomih Mtui, the director of the gross anatomy and body visualization program at Weill Cornell, and future donor Lulu Lanese
Photo credit: Amelia Panico
She was a student of medicine half a century ago when she too had that life-altering experience in the anatomy lab. Inspired to become a donor, Lanese applied and was accepted into Weill Cornell's Body Donor Program to give to future medical students what her donors gave to her.
"It was a special thing," she said. "Nothing in the Earth could explain it."
Each of the 26 first-year anatomy lab groups presented a bouquet of flowers, placing them on a white table, and reflected on their experiences. Some told stories while others read poems.
Medical student Kunal Patel dreams about anatomy and thinks of his donor, Dominick, often. "I bet you when I'm a doctor and I'm listening to a heart beat," he said, "I'll be thinking about him."
While Casey Krebs was celebrating her acceptance into medical school last year, her aunt, losing her battle with metastatic cancer, received her acceptance into another medical college's donor program. "She said that she too was accepted into medical school," Krebs said. "It's really an incredible act of generosity. I think it's very admirable."
By the end of the ceremony, the white table was transformed into a giant bed of roses.