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Med Students Honor Body Donors With Interfaith Service

by Maggie Rotermund on 11/09/2018
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Medical students at Saint Louis University honored those who donated their bodies for medical education with an interfaith memorial service Friday.

Med students at Gift Body Memorial

Medical students place flowers in a basket in memory of those who donated their body to Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Two students take their flowers up to the altar of St. Francis Xavier College Church on Friday, Nov. 9. Photo by Ellen Hutti

The service is put together by first-year medical students, led by John Martin, Ph.D., director of the Center for Anatomical Science and Education (CASE), and MariaTeresa Tersigni-Tarrant, Ph.D., D-ABFA, associate professor in anatomy.

"This year our CASE Graduate Students and students from the Allied Health Programs will have more participation in the service than in years past," Tersigni-Tarrant said. "The M1s, Graduate Students and Allied Health Students have chosen the readings, the prayers, and six individuals have written personal reflections."

Student musicians chose the music and performed each piece. An M1 served as a sign language interpreter for the music.  Student artists submitted artwork for the service's bulletin and the M1s chose the flower that they used in the flower procession. 

The M1s, Graduate Students, and Allied Health Students served as ushers and greeters and they will also take part in the flower procession.

In addition to reading prayers, the students also performed music, created the artwork and gave personal reflections. 

Anna Stahlschmidt, a graduate student in the physician assistant program, share with the families of the body donors that she sat in their seat one year ago. 

"My grandmother donated her body last year and I miss her," she said. "We started working with our donors on the one-year anniversary of her death. I remembered in that moment what one of the speakers said to us last year - focus on the hands, the eyes, the mouth and the arms and remember what a person means to their family.

So I thought of my grandmother's hands as she clapped at my volleyball games, her eyes as I would put drops in them at the end of the day and the singing voice that none of us inherited."

Stahlschmidt said she formed a profound relationship with her donor body.

"The memory of your loved one lives on," she said. "Their last action was one of compassion and selflessness." 

The service, held at St. Francis Xavier College Church, honors all the faith traditions represented in the medical school class. This year's service included Catholic, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Mormon prayers.

Each year, people donate their bodies to SLU School of Medicine's Gift Body Program through the Center for Anatomical Science and Education to educate medical students, allied health students and residents. In the past year, 413 people donated their bodies to SLU.

Twice a year, ashes are buried at Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery, 7030 Gravois Ave. A graveside service is conducted by the medical school campus minister and attended by CASE faculty and staff. There is one common grave marker at the site with the following inscription: "Saint Louis University and its students gratefully acknowledge the charity of those buried here who gave their remains for the advancement of medical science." 

Those interested in learning more about the gift body program can call 314-977-8027.

 Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.