OUWB Anatomy Memorial recognizes donors’ ‘final act of kindness’
An image of a student performing during the memorial
Marvin Paguio, M1, said he chose to perform a medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Simple Gifts” on his accordion because he felt those songs “captured the beauty of life.”

After two years of being held virtually, people from Oakland University, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, and the community gathered in-person to honor those who donated their bodies to medicine.

The 2023 Anatomy Memorial was hosted March 14 by the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine and the Oakland University School of Health Sciences’ Physical Therapy program.

More than 100 people attended the event as faculty and students from both schools paid their respects to the donors whose bodies, since the beginning of the school year, have played an essential role in helping understand anatomy in a way that officials said can’t be taught in a book or lecture.

“Since 2021, it has been held virtually, and even though we all came together and celebrated the lives of the donors…it (wasn’t) the same as being in-person and listening to (the performances) and getting emotionally connected with the group that you are a part of,” said Malli Barremkala, M.D., associate professor, Department of Foundational Studies.

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In the medical school space, said Barremkala, these donors are often referred to as medical students’ “first patients” or “first teachers.”

“One of the selfless things that these people do is donate their bodies even after their death, and this is done voluntarily,” he said. “They want the students to benefit from this knowledge and take it forward to help the people that are suffering…and this is an event where we celebrate all of that.”

The event planning is mainly spearheaded by a committee of student volunteers.

“Our curriculum and our school talks about the importance of being a compassionate doctor, being empathetic, and I think with all the other activities that (students) do…this acknowledgement of this gift just falls in line with that part of our educational model and goals,” said Helena Schmitt, coordinator, Body Donation Program.

For the OUWB students on the planning committee – M1s Dhun Chauhan and Chennai Marcus – volunteering to organize the student-initiated memorial was a meaningful way for them to express their gratitude for their anatomy lab experience.

“These donors taught me more than any textbook could,” said Chauhan. “They believed in medicine and the power to heal, but most importantly they believed in me. I will continue to strive to use what they taught me to be the best doctor I can.”

“It’s hard to describe with words alone. I feel like the act of actually doing and being in the lab - to physically get to know your patient in that way - it’s an art of medicine,” said Marcus. “It’s important for medical students to honor their experience in the anatomy lab because…we’re learning the vulnerability of people who are going to be our patients.”

An image of students performing during the memorial
M1s Sahana Shankar (right) and Maggie Bailey teamed up to read two poems together.

M1s Sahana Shankar and Maggie Bailey teamed up to read two poems together: “My Final Gift” by Anonymous and “Donor Anatomy, Learning Humanity” by James R. Carey, Ph.D.

“I didn’t know how to express the feelings I felt while in the anatomy lab,” Shankar said. “Given this opportunity, I felt like it was the best way to express my gratitude.”

“Before coming to the anatomy lab, I had no idea how much I would connect with these donors, and I felt an unexplainable connection to all of these bodies that I never thought I would express,” she added.

“With this event, I feel like it was the least I could do to really connect with the families and just express my thanks for the knowledge they’ve given.”

Marvin Paguio, M1, said he chose to perform a medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Simple Gifts” on his accordion because he felt those songs “captured the beauty of life.”

“It was good to be able to show appreciation and gratitude in a way that I felt was unique to me,” said Paguio. “Music has always been a way to express those emotions, and I wanted to be able to share that with our OUWB community, the physical therapy community, and share our gratitude for the cadaver program.”

“As students, we’re very busy,” he added. “But I think when you’re able to take some time to reflect on the really profound and admirable decision to donate one’s body, it really puts everything into perspective.”

Other performers and speakers from OUWB included M1s Dylan Moran, who read her original poem “Anonymous Gift” and Chauhan, who gave her speech titled “Self Giving.” Reflections also were shared by Varna Taranikanti, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Foundational Medical Studies, Aishwarya Navalpakam, M.D, OUWB alum, and OUWB Stephan Sharf Dean Duane Mezwa, M.D.

“While we never knew their nicknames or their favorite ice cream like their families do, there’s one thing we know for certain: we know that they were kind,” said Mezwa.

“It was their kindness that brought them to us. This was their final act of kindness.”

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