Paying it forward with a selfless gift for learning
They don’t know each other, but they all share a common bond.
Loved ones of family and friends who have passed on, gathering together with educators and students who are training to become the next class of doctors, physician assistants and physical therapists.
The group assembled for one purpose: to honor the lives of those who chose to leave a different kind of legacy in death, by donating their bodies to science.
For some, that selfless gift means closure. For others—a new beginning, as a medical student’s very first patient.
“I would like their families and friends to know, first and foremost, that their loved ones were treated with the utmost respect and dignity…”
Ryan Bashour is a first year physician assistant student at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.
“Every single day that we entered the lab, we acknowledged the sacrifice they gave in order for us to learn and used it as inspiration to understand the material.”
He, like so many other medical students, had the unique opportunity of gaining a deeper understanding of the human body with his first patient, a donor who wanted their body to continue to help others, even after death.
“This is an enormous opportunity that the donors and their families have given,” said Chris Dunmore, director of the human gift registry at the school of medicine. “I tell people when they say they want to help someone to live, that they are not just helping one or two people live longer—they are going to help thousands of people. Every student will help thousands of people throughout their careers. They learned to do that with their first patient here at the medical school.”
“Learning something so complex like human anatomy from a PowerPoint or a textbook can only get you so far,” said Bashour. “To truly understand the fragile, yet resilient nature of the human body, you need to see it firsthand.”
And—Bashour says, those firsthand learning opportunities create a priceless Marshall Moment for them—an educational experience like no other, laying the groundwork for their own important life-changing work that lies ahead.
“For example, you’re taught about cardiac enlargement during serious cardiac pathologies, like heart failure, but it’s difficult to fathom the changes that occur. With the lab, you not only hold the enlarged heart within your hands, but you also see the downstream effects it can have on other areas within the body. It truly is eye-opening.”
“The students’ reflections are my favorite part of the service,” said Dunmore. “It lets the family see how meaningful their loved one’s gift was to them. The service is to honor the donors, but it is also for the families that are still here.”
The memorial service on Saturday, April 22, honored 56 donors to the human gift registry in 2022. Aside from a brief interruption of in-person services during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a ceremony that has taken place for decades.
“This program means a lot to these families and their loved ones who donated,” said Dunmore. “They are able to come to the service and meet the students that their loved ones helped on their journey to become future medical professionals, while getting some form of closure that everyone needs to finalize their loved ones’ lives and move on with theirs. It allows families to be at peace knowing they carried out their loved ones’ final wishes.”
A selfless gift to help other lives, long after death.
Paying it forward with the priceless gift of hands-on learning.