"He wanted to give back to science so they could learn more about the lymphoma he had," a grandmother of one family said through welled-up tears as she recalled her husband of more than 60 years. "I want to be doctor," shared an elementary school son of another family as he showed interest in science and learning more about the disease his family donor had.
These poignant words, spoken at MCW's Anatomical Gift Registry's Memorial Service in April, underscore the greatest gift body donors provide – the gift of giving. These special donors help future clinicians learn and inspire not just students currently in medical school, but also those with many years of schooling ahead of them.
During the Memorial Service, I thought back to my Clinical Human Anatomy course – one of the first we took as new medical students at MCW. It covered the human body in four sections, starting with the back to upper trunk, followed by the lower body and ending with the head and neck. The morning of our first Anatomy lab session, aware though I was of the cadaver dissection, I was nervous. I had mentally prepared myself, knowing that this was part of the medical training needed to understand the human body. After all, the most important step in reaching a diagnosis is by assessing the body. It would be my first time seeing a cadaver, however.
I put aside any worries after having learned that the individuals whom we were dissecting had donated their bodies for the purpose of educating medical students. Ultimately, these donors are making a significant impact on young minds that will be responsible for many lives in the future.
My first cut to the back of the cadaver was timid. It wasn't until several attempts that I dissected deeply enough to reach the trapezius muscle. From that very cut until the end of the course, I was constantly reminded of the rigidity and complexity of our body. Our bodies define the parallel necessities of structure and function, one guiding the other. On occasion, when seeing painted fingernails or eyes, or noticing the crossed fingers on my donor's left hand, I was overwhelmed with the realization that I was dissecting a human body.
Recognizing that the vagus nerve runs in parallel to the common carotid artery along with the internal jugular vein in the carotid sheath, or that the uniquely designed quadratus plantae muscle on the foot has no homolog in the hand, or that the pulse can be felt by placing two fingers at the middle of the lower jawline, allowed me to answer many questions of pathology simply based on the organization of the body.
Perhaps one body part for which I truly gained appreciation is the skull, with its intricate openings, or foramen, that methodically allow purposeful passage of arteries, nerves or the spinal cord; of the 289 structures we had to identify for the lab exam of the head and neck region, 94 were located on the skull!
At the Memorial Service, standing with my fellow students and members of the MCW community to thank families for their selfless donations to help further my education, I was reminded once again of the crossed fingers I first encountered in Anatomy lab – an image of hope that has since guided my medical school education.
Sai-Suma K. Samudrala recently completed her first year at MCW's Medical School, and has been accepted into MCW's Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), which supports medical education and research training culminating in the receipt of both the MD and PhD degrees. A former resident of Brookfield, Wisconsin, Samudrala graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in May 2016 and hopes to pursue a career in pediatric cardiology.
Going forward, Samudrala will share her thoughts on various aspects of her education and training through this "Voice of the Student" column.
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