A priceless gift of teaching and learning
‘Thank you,’ said UND to the families, as the University honored people whose body donations have helped train medical and health-sciences students
When Autumn grieves, she bows her head, so rainbow tears fall gently on her leaf bed.
— Angie Weiland-Crosby
Rainbow tears and real tears alike fell Friday, as UND hosted an outdoor service at Memorial Park Cemetery in Grand Forks to honor people who donated their bodies to the University’s medical education programs.
Family members of the donors were invited, as were the faculty, staff and students of the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences. And in all, some 250 people attended the service, which was held by the School’s plot at the cemetery and beneath an October canopy of lemon- and rust-colored leaves.
“Many of us chose to enter the field of teaching because of the importance of educating students and the desire to help them be ready to benefit our society,” said Mandy Meyer, associate professor of Occupational Therapy and Biomedical Sciences and director of the School’s Deeded Body Program, at the gathering.
“Today, we come here to recognize and show great gratitude toward a group of men and women who also made a conscious decision to enter the teaching profession.”
These individuals — the people who donated their bodies to aid medical education — “became some of the most powerful instructors in very rigorous academic programs designed to help our aspiring health care providers learn the intricacies of the human body,” Meyer continued.
“By giving of themselves literally, the donors allowed our students to gain access to direct observation of the human body. And that’s one of the best ways to learn.”
The School conducts the ceremony once every three years to inter the cremated remains of donors who’ve chosen to be interred at the School’s plot. Marking the location is the School’s 6-foot-tall headstone, which bears the initials NDSM, a stylized caduceus — the symbol of medicine — and the inscription, “In memory of those who gave their body to medical science.”
Meaning and purpose
Twice during the service, UND Physical Therapy student Claire Mellema performed on the oboe, her solos lingering around the ceremony and blessing it like wafts of incense. At another point, Mellema’s fellow physical therapy student Sidni Kast sang “What a Wonderful World,” then performed on keyboard while Father Luke Meyer of St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center read the names of the 48 donors.
The names can be found below.
When it came time for her to speak, Meghan Rodriquez, a UND graduate who is an assistant teaching professor of Anatomy and Histology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, told a personal story about her late brother, John, and his struggle with psoriatic arthritis. John developed the chronic, inflammatory disease of the joints in childhood, and it meant for him a lifetime of pain, Rodriquez said: “I remember having to be extremely careful not to hurt him, just when we would help him put on his socks.”
But before John died, he decided to donate his body to a medical research organization called Science Care, Rodriquez said. According to John, if doctors could learn even one thing from his body about his disease, and if that research could help even one person, then “it meant that there was a reason for everything,” Rodriquez said.
In particular, it meant there was a reason for the arthritis that had disabled him. Moreover, “the thought of helping improve another person’s life brought meaning and purpose to John’s life,” she said.
Of course, everyone has their own reasons for choosing to donate, Rodriquez continued. “But I believe most people make that choice for a reason similar to my brother’s: to improve the lives of others.
“And I know that’s why my husband and I are going to donate our bodies, too.”
For her part, Occupational Therapy student Emma Lehman said she feels toward the donors both gratitude — and resolve: gratitude, for the priceless gift of anatomical training that will make her a better therapist; and resolve, that the donors and their foresight and generosity will be remembered.
“I’m blessed to be part of a program that offers such an incredible and humbling experience,” she said to the families of the donors.
“We will not take this for granted, and we appreciate the dedication and sacrifice of your loved ones.
“This experience has been one that will ultimately shape us into the best leaders in the healthcare field because of the decision your loved ones made,” Lehman continued.
“Their impact will not go unnoticed or be forgotten. Thank you.”
In memory of the 48 donors to the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences’ Deeded Body Program whose selfless gift was honored on Oct 1:
Jo Ann Groth
John Lunday Jr.
Hazel Red Bird