Campus News

Memorial service honors anatomical gift donors

Photos: Sandra Kicman

By BILL BRUTON

Published July 11, 2018

“Your loved ones are the best teachers we’ve ever had.”
Kelsey A. LaPiano, UB medical student

Gratitude, reverence and respect were in evidence throughout a touching ceremony as more than 600 family members of individuals who donated their bodies to medical science gathered recently for the UB Anatomical Gift Program Memorial Service.

UB conducts the service every other year so that families can commemorate loved ones whose bodies were donated to the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The ceremony took place June 21 — the first official day of summer — at the Skinnersville Cemetery next to the North Campus.

Some donors’ ashes were interred in a communal grave at the cemetery, while other families chose to have their loved ones’ ashes returned to them or buried privately.

Kelsey A. LaPiano spoke about how important the program is to her and fellow UB medical students.

“I need you to know that your loved ones were treated with nothing but respect,” said LaPiano, a rising second-year medical student. “There’s no better way to learn than working on a real human body. And your loved ones are the best teachers we’ve ever had.”

The program has added significance for LaPiano, who plans to donate her body to the program when she dies, as will some other members of her family.

“They give up their body — which is arguably the only thing we ever own — with blind hope that we would treat them with respect and learn something from them. And we certainly did,” she said. “I want to thank you all. I hope when I’m sitting in your seat that I feel that sense of closure and pride that you feel now because you should all be proud to be associated with somebody who was so selfless.”

UB’s program now among largest in U.S.

The reverence shown to the deceased and their families, and the generosity of the Western New York community have made the program extremely successful.

“Because of your relatives, we have the ability to do things at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences that no other school in the country can do,” said Raymond P. Dannenhoffer, associate dean for support services and director of the program. “We get three times the number of donations to our program than the next largest program in New York State and we are close to being the largest anatomical gift program in the country.

“That’s due to your relatives,” Dannenhoffer told those attending the ceremony. “It allows us to teach and train our students and local physicians in ways that nobody else can do.”

The program now receives 800 donations a year. That figure is up 33 percent in just the past two years and more than 250 percent from what it was in 2006.

“This ceremony is one final thank you to them for the wonderful gift they give us,” Dannenhoffer said. “We cannot overstate the importance our students learn from your loved ones.”

Department chair amazed at generosity

John E. Tomaszewski, SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Chair of the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, moved to Western New York from Philadelphia in 2011 and continues to be amazed at the generosity this community shows.

“Thank you all for being part of this family of giving. This is a glorious day because we’re celebrating the gifts that have been given,” Tomaszewski said. “Today we’re celebrating one of the greatest gifts that anyone can give, and that’s the gift of themselves.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, those in attendance released 200 monarch butterflies as a symbol of the program.