Release Date: June 8, 2016
BUFFALO, N.Y – Six hundred family members of individuals who have donated their bodies to medical science will gather to honor their memory at a ceremony at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 9 in Skinnersville Cemetery, Frontier Road near the University at Buffalo North Campus. (See map.) The service will conclude with the release of dozens of butterflies. A reception will follow.
Media are invited to attend. Press arrangements: Ellen Goldbaum at 716-645-4605 or 716-771-9255 on-site.
UB holds the service every other year so that families can commemorate loved ones whose ashes were interred in a communal grave; other families choose to have the ashes of their loved ones returned to them or buried in a service that they arrange.
Speakers at Thursday’s ceremony will include UB Monsignor Patrick Kelleher and Shannon Tierney and Jessica LaPiano, first-year medical students who will discuss what the anatomical donations have meant to them as they began their medical education.
John Tomaszewski, MD, chair of the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, also will address attendees. He noted that UB’s program has long distinguished itself from other such programs.
“The UB Anatomical Gift program is unique in the nation,” Tomaszewski said. “The deep generosity of the people of Western New York has made this program a true national model. The breadth of the program, the care given to the gifts by the program’s stewards, and the appreciation and recognition of the student recipients is unmatched.”
"We all want and need well-trained doctors,” said Jo Wiederhorn, president of the Associated Medical Schools of New York. “To teach a student how to become a doctor, you need thriving anatomical gift programs. Donating your body to science is one of the highest forms of altruism.”
Interest in UB’s program has been steadily increasing, according to Ray Dannenhoffer, PhD, associate dean in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and director of the UB Anatomical Gift program. This, he says, is partly due to increased awareness and partly due to economic considerations. He noted that there is no cost to families donating a loved one’s body if located within 100 miles of UB. Families or estates are charged only if the distance is more than 100 miles.
UB’s Anatomical Gift program accepts all donations without restrictions, Dannenhoffer continued. “Other programs may have restrictions, but we are very flexible,” he said.
Each family that attends Thursday’s ceremony will receive a commemorative gift, a custom-made cherry-wood cutting board inscribed with the program’s motto “Greatest teacher” and a butterfly design. Upon enrolling in the program, UB donors also receive a pin or magnet with the motto, signifying that they are helping to enhance medical education.
UB now has the largest program in the state, by far. “We are accepting 600 donations a year – nearly 100 more than we had in 2014,” said Dannenhoffer. He added that interest in the program is all by word of mouth; the program doesn’t advertise.
And, he pointed out, it isn’t only medical students who benefit; UB medical residents, students in other health sciences programs and emergency responders in the community also benefit.
“It’s important to remember that we are just the caretakers,” said Dannenhoffer. “The donors aren’t donating to us, they’re donating to the community. The people who ultimately benefit from the anatomical gifts are all the people who get treated by the health professionals who learned from the donation."
While individuals have myriad reasons for donating, Tomaszewski said that no matter the reason, these donations are among the most personal and significant gifts that someone can make and that they have tremendous educational value for UB’s students.
“A full understanding of medicine for a student is impossible without a pre-clinical opportunity to be with, to study with and to learn from an anatomical gift donor,” said Tomaszewski. “Students often talk about their great teachers. There are no greater teachers than those who offer themselves to students in the UB Anatomical Gift program."