Memorial service honors bodies donated to science

Students from the School of Physician Assistant Studies released 13 environmentally friendly balloons in honor of the 13 individuals who donated their bodies to science and education. Photo by Mindy C. Miller

Students from the School of Physician Assistant Studies released 13 environmentally friendly balloons in honor of the 13 individuals who donated their bodies to science and education. Photo by Mindy C. Miller

For Raquel Hendershot, a first-year student in the UF College of Medicine School of Physician Assistant Studies, working in the cadaver lab with her fellow physician assistants-in-training was a profound and educational experience.

“It helped us bind the science and humanity,” she said, noting that the two go hand-in-hand in the medical profession.

Hendershot and her colleagues from the class of 2017 hosted an intimate ceremony Aug. 26 in a classroom of the George T. Harrell, M.D., Medical Education Building to thank those who donated their bodies to educate the next generation of health care professionals.

One by one, each of the 12 groups stood at the front of the room and expressed gratitude to the 13 donors who made it possible for students to learn the inner workings of the human body during their summer B anatomy lab, which consisted of 60 PA students and two anthropology students.

“It helped us visualize things,” said Ashley Giddings, who, as class president, helped organize the memorial event along with Hendershot, the class vice president. “It brought our science books to life.”

The memorial service included poetry readings, the reading of letters written by relatives of anonymous donors and an a cappella performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

“Their hopes and dreams in life might not have all been achieved, but through us they can continue them,” said first-year PA student Kacey Zilberberg about why she chose to honor donors through song.

Kyle Rarey, Ph.D., a professor in the UF College of Medicine department of anatomy and cell biology, also gave remarks at the service, speaking about how the event served as a way to humanize the anatomy lab experience, which can elicit feelings of anxiety, excitement and fear.

“With all those feelings that you had, you focused on what we asked you to learn,” he said.

To close the event, students filed down the stairs of the Harrell Medical Education Building and into the afternoon heat to release 13 red balloons in honor of each donor. The balloons, some scrawled with messages in black ink, floated up past the building’s tower as students lifted their eyes to the sky. Giddings explained the balloons were environmentally friendly, and students opted to tie them with twine, which is used by birds to build nests.

Although Rarey said students and faculty knew little about the 13 donors and could only guess what they were like in life, there was one quality they all undoubtedly shared: selflessness.

“To you, much has been given,” he said to the students, “and much is expected.”