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Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine students Brittney Lee, left, Kelsey Snider, Madison Pastor and Bingham Hightower hold candles during the Body Donor Honoring Ceremony on the OSU-Center for Health Sciences campus.
Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine students Brittney Lee, left, Kelsey Snider, Madison Pastor and Bingham Hightower hold candles during the Body Donor Honoring Ceremony on the OSU-Center for Health Sciences campus.

OSU-CHS students honor those who give ultimate gift

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Media Contact: Sara Plummer | Communications Coordinator | 918-561-1282 | sara.plummer@okstate.edu

Mortui vivos docent — the dead teach the living.

Those words hang in the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences’ anatomy lab above the door of Thom Garrison, director of the Body Donor Program.

Garrison and Dr. Kent Smith, professor of anatomy, recently welcomed the newest class of students from OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Physician Assistant Program to the anatomy lab during their orientation week. It was a similar scene at the OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation campus in Tahlequah.

A few days later, the students from both campuses now donned their new white coats — as well as faculty and staff— and gathered to recognize those individuals who donated their bodies to the medical school at the Body Donor Honoring Ceremony.

“Our students, faculty and staff can say thank you and it’s a ceremony dedicated to these individuals,” Garrison said. “Those who donate their body just know how important it is to study different diseases and different bodies. If somebody can learn how to find better treatments, or if they can cure diseases, they want to be a part of that.”

This year, those individuals include a truck driver, nurse, hairdresser, home health aide, mechanic, loss prevention officer, interior designer, paralegal, police officer, financial consultant, homemaker, bus driver and computer analyst — information that was read aloud during the ceremony.

“That personalizes them. These people lived a life and gave a wonderful gift to us. It’s a thank you to them,” Garrison said.

Smith agrees.

“The students in our classes, they want to know about the people they’re working on. I think it’s great they want to know,” Smith said. “As physicians, they want to take care of their patients. In many ways, this is their first patient.”

OSU-COM student Deseree Jones-Miguel said she’s excited and nervous about attending her first anatomy class as a first-year medical student.

“I want to learn as much as a I can but also honor this person who gave us their body and I’m extremely humbled,” said Jones-Miguel, who appreciated having a ceremony for those people who gave such an amazing gift to her and her fellow students.

“I think us just taking this time out to honor them and give them their time before we start classes keeps us humble and grounded and we remember our ‘why’ for doing this in the first place,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful. It really centers us and brings it back home. We work and learn from them so we can make other people’s lives better and complete the circle.”

Dr. Natasha Bray, interim dean of OSUCOM at the Cherokee Nation, spoke during the ceremony about what a gift these individuals gave in donating their bodies to the students’ education, as well as what she remembers most about her time in the anatomy lab as a medical student at OSU.

“You each will be touched by the humanity of this experience in different ways — for me it was her hands. Those hands played in childhood, held a book while going to school, held hands with a first love, held and comforted children, wiped away tears and clapped in celebration,” Bray said to the students. “So much of life’s story in represented by those hands. And those hands in their final act were my teacher and lead me into my career as a physician.”

It’s a sentiment that is familiar to Jones-Miguel, who has spent some time in an anatomy lab as an undergrad at Northeastern State University.

“The thing that always struck me was the woman, she had painted her fingernails. It’s so simple but it reminded me that she had a life, her life mattered, and she had a journey,” she said. 

Garrison said at first, students are a little nervous in the anatomy lab, but they seem to relax as they get used to working with their cadaver and learning the different systems of the body.

“Our No. 1 rule is to honor and respect the cadavers. It’s an honor and privilege to have them here. They’re our special guests,” he said, and the students appreciate the gift these donors left them.

“Seeing body systems first-hand, those tendons and muscles, and you can actually pull on this tendon and see how it moves this part of the body. Seeing that first-hand, it’s a teacher like no other,” Jones-Miguel said.

After the donor body is no longer required for course work, it is cremated, and the ashes are either given back to the family or the family can request that they are scattered in a flower garden.

For more information about the OSU-CHS Body Donor Program, contact Garrison at thom.garrison@okstate.edu

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