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TIFFIN — Thirteen candles were lit Tuesday in tribute to the men and women whose hearts have literally been held in the hands of Heidelberg University students.
Twenty-five years after Heidelberg opened one of the only cadaver labs in the country that's exclusively for the use of undergraduates, the university’s department of biological and environmental sciences held a first-ever “convocation of thanks” for the anonymous individuals who donated their bodies to science.
“It takes a very special and self-sacrificing person to willingly choose to donate their body to science,” said Gabrielle Mintz, a senior biology major from New Riegel, Ohio. “Even after a year and a half of working directly with these donors and learning the value of such a resource, I still don’t know if I would be able to be as selfless and donate my own body.”
Miss Mintz, who planned the ceremony as part of her senior honors project, said learning about human anatomy from cadavers in the lab has far more impact than learning about it in a textbook.
Heidelberg President Robert Huntington credited Pamela Faber, a biology professor and chairman of the biological and environmental sciences department, with getting the cadaver lab established in 1988.
“It’s really important for universities to offer things that are distinctive, that separate one’s institution from the pack out in the marketplace, but more importantly in the minds and hearts of students and families and fellow universities and colleges across the United States,” Mr. Huntington said. “The cadaver lab is distinctive. It is something very special.”
The lab is not unique, he said, though it is “an uncommon learning experience” for undergraduates at a small university like Heidelberg.
Ms. Faber said she hears that routinely from Heidelberg graduates who go on to medical school. They are typically the only ones in their classes who arrive with experience in “cadaver prosection.” Most only have experience with animal dissection.
Ms. Faber said dissecting animals is far from the same thing — something that prompted her to work to establish the lab soon after she came to Heidelberg in 1987. “I didn’t want to use cats,” she said. “That’s not a high enough bar.”
With the administration’s somewhat reluctant blessing, she forged a partnership with Ohio State University’s Division of Anatomy, working out an agreement whereby OSU provides a cadaver to Heidelberg every other year. Heidelberg pays $1,750 per cadaver to cover the cost of initial embalming and final cremation.
“OSU provides the cause of death and age at death, but all other information is confidential,” Ms. Faber said. “We continue that spirit of respect and privacy here in our laboratories.”
While many of the seniors who take the cadaver prosection class at Heidelberg plan to attend medical school, others major in athletic training, chemistry, or psychology.
Josh Olewiler, a senior from Shiloh, Ohio who hopes to become a physician, told the gathering of 75 or so students and faculty that he salutes anyone who donates blood or bone marrow or checks the organ donor box on their driver’s license.
“To give of your own body in the interest of improving the life of another is, in my opinion, the greatest gift that can be given,” he said. “We could not know all the things we know about medicine without the generosity of these individuals that have given of themselves.”
The University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio Hospital, which has had an anatomical donation program since 1969, holds a memorial service each spring to honor the donors who died in the previous year.
Those interested in donating their body to science can pre-register at a medical school or university of their choice.
To obtain a list of donation programs go to med.ufl.edu/anatbd/usprograms.html.