It was an emotional afternoon on Jan. 25 for the students, families and friends of six anatomical donors whose lives and generosity were honored with a moving memorial service at the Indiana University School of Medicine – Northwest.
These donors had contributed their bodies to the cause of scientific learning, and first-year medical students at IUSM-NW spent their first semester of medical school studying these anatomy teachers to learn about the construction and function of the human body.
On Friday, these student physicians said a tearful farewell to people whom they considered to be their first patients.
“The greatest thing that one human being can do for another is to give of themselves, and that is what our donors did,” said Munster resident and first-year med student Janushi Dalal. “They truly gave of themselves. And their gift, as we all heard, doesn’t just extend to the 18 of us who had the privilege of working with them. It extends to all of the people who we will have the privilege to treat.”
Dalal became emotional when discussing what she learned from Dr. Philip Countryman, M.D., a U.S. Army veteran who was both a graduate of and a professor for the IU School of Medicine, and who donated his body to the Indiana Anatomical Education Program.
“It’s astounding, the impact that your family member made,” Dalal said. “It’s just amazing to think that your family member single-handedly will help thousands of people. That truly is a reflection of all of you, because without your support, they would not have been able to do what they have done. So we thank all of you.”
Because Countryman had no family in attendance, Dalal accepted the folded American flag from IU Northwest ROTC cadets following the solemn military ceremony conducted in Countryman’s honor.
Patrick Bankston, Ph.D., director and assistant dean of IUSM-NW, said the ceremony was intended to convey the gratitude of the students, the faculty and the medical school for the lessons the anatomical donors had provided.
“We do this in the name of thanks for those people who gave this gift to us,” Bankston told the large crowd of students, donor families, administrators, faculty, staff, and media representatives who had crowded into the gross anatomy lab on the second floor of the Dunes Medical/Professional Building for the noontime service.
The formal service was facilitated by the Rev. James Wetzstein, associate pastor at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University, and Ernest Talarico, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology and course director of human gross anatomy and embryology at IUSM-NW. During the service, students read letters they had written about their donors and explained the impact this learning experience had had on their preparation as doctors.
Family members of the donors who attended the service were deeply moved by the experience.
“I really was glad I was able to come and take part in it,” said Helen Miller, the daughter of donor Florence LaDuke. “I appreciate the effort being made to make their subjects in anatomy much more human. It had that human touch of knowing that there is more to it, that there was a personality there.”
Miller said that her mother was a “lifetime educator,” and that her role as anatomical donor fit perfectly with her life’s work.
“Even in death, she found a way to continue educating others,” Miller said.