A dozen college students stand in a church sanctuary next to 10 lit candles following a memorial service.

A group of first-year physical therapy students took part in a memorial service Tuesday to honor the contributions of cadaver donors.

It seemed like a typical memorial service at noon on Tuesday when several dozen students and professors gathered at Wingate Baptist Church. There were candles, prayers, sacred songs, scripture and short testimonies about the deceased. But never a name was mentioned.

The Service of Gratitude sponsored by Doctor of Physical Therapy students was all about thanking 10 people who, in death, had, in a sense, sacrificed their identities to become cadavers in anatomy and kinesiology labs. Although their names were not called, it was clear that they were remembered and appreciated.

Lighting a candle for each cadaver, students reflected on what they’d learned:

“I learned hands-on how detailed and specific the Lord has made us.”

“I learned how intricately connected our human body is.”

“Our cadaver had a lot of pathology and I learned about what that looks like and about the pain they experienced because of that.”

“The donors taught me how different conditions can arise. More importantly, they taught me the true meaning of the word ‘generosity.’”

Dr. George Schuppin, associate professor, reminded the students of their first day of dissection.

“Monday, January 17, at 2 p.m., that’s when we met our cadavers. I remember there was some nervousness, some trepidation,” he said. “We had extra faculty members in the room in case students had trouble with the indoctrination.”

He said that when the dissections began, students placed their cadavers face down and tried hard not to think of them as people, but instead to focus on the bones, muscles, blood vessels and nerves in the back of the neck. But over time, Schuppin said, they began to notice signs of the lives the donors had lived: painted nails, tattoos, scars, healthy tissues and well-developed muscles and joints, along with pacemakers, bypass surgeries and transplanted organs.

“I’m deeply grateful to learn and to facilitate some of the lessons that these people had to teach us,” Schuppin said, calling the service “an ultimate expression of respect” for those lessons.

Notecards with writing are clothes-pinned to a bulletin board.

A bulletin board displays students’ notes thanking cadaver donors for the lessons they taught.

‘Knowing You’

Student Miranda Pelky read the poem “Knowing You,” written by Bastyr University student JooRi Jun in 2012 about the woman whose body Jun studied.

“I do not know all the paths you chose to walk down in life, but I have felt the fibers of all the muscles that carried you there. I do not know what made your heart burst with love, but I have pictured how the blood flowed through the four chambers of your heart,” the poem begins, ending with, “I do not know your name, but before you left you gave me permission to uncover the miracle of the human body through you. You gave me the gift of knowing you.”

Lisa LePine, from Oswego, New York, organized the service with help from other first-year DPT students. She said she felt as if she did get to know her cadaver donor. “I felt connected with him,” she said. “As odd as it sounds, it was very much like he was my friend.”

Four to five students were assigned to each cadaver and spent roughly six hours a week dissecting. In addition, they observed the dissections their classmates performed on other cadavers.

“For me, going to another cadaver didn’t feel like home. I was biased to ours,” LePine said, describing a man who had been bed-bound and suffered a number of health issues. She said students are never told the name or any personal details about the donors, but at the end of their studies, they did learn the cause of death and were able to see a portion of the donor’s medical record.

A female college student plays guitar in a church.

Alli Cargill performs “Amazing Grace.”

DPT students will have spent almost a year with the cadavers before they are taken to their final resting place on Jan. 5. Some physical therapy doctoral candidates will share a bit of what they’ve learned with high school students who are set to visit the DPT cadaver lab on Friday. For others, the memorial service was a time for closure, as they won’t see the cadavers again.

The Rev. Dane Jordan, campus minister, offered opening and closing prayers. He said he had been asked to say a prayer in the lab in prior years but that this is the first time a service of gratitude has been held. Student Alli Cargill played guitar and sang “Amazing Grace,” and classmate Laura Holmes read from Psalm 139. In addition to LePine, students who shared during the candle-lighting were Alyssa Bourget, Courtney Reginald, Dylan Burleson, Jarrett Allen, Zade Denton, Hayley Seiler, Seth Williams, Adrien Reavis and Jennifer Baity.

Nov. 29, 2017