KU medical students grateful for body donations

Kansas University School of Medicine students rely on body donations. It’s how they learn about the human anatomy in great detail and how to perform procedures safely and effectively.

Ultimately, it’s you and me — the patients — that benefit.

Dr. Dale Abrahamson, chair of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, said KU receives between one and 200 donations each year.

“This is a selfless and timeless gift that is made and it’s for the education of doctors and other health care providers,” he said.

Individuals who wish to donate their body need to complete a “Certificate for Bequeathing my Body to KU’s School of Medicine” form. Once completed, KU will send a donor card that can be kept in a wallet or with other personal effects. It’s also important to inform family.

“It’s entirely up to the family whether to honor the wish or not, but typically they do,” Abrahamson said.

There are certain conditions where KU cannot accept a donation. These include:

• The body has been embalmed.

• Amputation has been performed.

• An autopsy has been performed.

• A communicable disease is present.

• Obesity or emaciation.

“These individuals may be useful for certain studies, but they aren’t going to be as useful for the general medical education and general health provider education kinds of studies that most of the bodies are used for,” Abrahamson said.

The timing between death and delivery can not exceed 24 hours, so if someone dies while traveling, KU will recommend donating the body to a nearby medical school.

“As soon as after death as possible, we need to begin the anatomical preservation procedures,” Abrahamson said. The process is more thorough and lengthy than what is used in the funeral home industry.

Most of the donations are from the region because of the time factor. He said they’ve gotten a few donations from western Kansas. KU doesn’t pay for the transportation, but all costs are covered after arrival.

KU uses the donations anywhere from two weeks to two years. After the research is done, the bodies are cremated.

“The bodies are treated individually. They are not co-mingled,” Abrahamson said.

The family can opt to have the cremains returned to them. If not, they are buried in a grave site at Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence. There was an internment of several dozen cremains last month.

The cremated remains of bodies donated to Kansas University Medical Center for research and education purposes are buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence. Several dozen cremains were buried about six weeks ago.

The cremated remains of bodies donated to Kansas University Medical Center for research and education purposes are buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Lawrence. Several dozen cremains were buried about six weeks ago. by Mike Yoder

Every year, KU pays tribute to the donors, and family and friends are invited to attend the ceremony. Abrahamson said he gives a testimonial along with other faculty members, practicing doctors and medical students.

“The donors become in essence the first patient that these medical education students ever truly encounter in an in-depth way, and so they will carry the memory of their first patient with them throughout their entire careers,” Abrahamson said. “It is an enormous gift.”

Dr. Charles Yockey, a Lawrence Memorial Hospital hospitalist, agrees.

“Every med student benefits from patients who donate their bodies to science. The most significant class in the first two years is the anatomy class and without patients, this class would not be possible,” he said.

Ernestine Dougherty, 74, of Prairie Village, and her husband, Peter, plan to donate their bodies to KU for two reasons. First, they want to help educate students and further science. Second, they don’t want to burden their family with a grave site.

“As a child growing up, we had to visit the cemetery all of the time to visit all of the old relatives, and I hated going to the cemetery and I swore that I would never make my kids go to the cemetery and have to worry about taking care of a grave and all of that,” she said.


More information?

To learn more about the Willed Body Program at Kansas University’s School of Medicine: • Visit its website at www.kumc.edu/anatomy and click on “Willed Body Program.”

• Call 913-588-2735.

• E-mail hallensw@kumc.edu.

Tagged: donation, education, Kansas University School of Medicine, Willed Body Program

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