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Upstate students to honor donors to Anatomical Gift Program at annual memorial service April 27

Hundreds of people sit in Hendricks Chapel on the Syracuse University campus for the annual Anatomical Gift Program Memorial Service to honor the program's donors and their families.

Upstate Medical University students will soon host the annual memorial service honoring more than 200 people who in the last year have donated their bodies for medical study.

Every year since at least 1980, first-year Upstate students in three programs (medicine, physical therapy and physician assistant) organize a memorial service and reception to thank families and honor donors to Upstate Medical University’s Anatomical Gift Program. During the last year, 230 people donated their bodies to the program, which allows students to study human anatomy – a critical component to the pursuit of medicine and science said Dan Jaeger, technical director of the Anatomical Gift Program.

This year’s service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 27 in Hendricks Chapel on the Syracuse University campus. The service will last about one hour and will be followed by a reception in the Heroy Geology Laboratory Lobby, adjacent to Hendricks Chapel. Anywhere from 500 to 700 people attend annually.

“It’s an opportunity for the students to show their appreciation for the gift they have received,” Jaeger said. “It’s a chance to say thank you for the opportunity to study the human body.”

Upstate students contribute their talents to the service in the form of music, poetry and statements of gratitude. Donors’ family members are encouraged to submit a photograph of their loved one beforehand, which is displayed at the reception. There, students and family members have a chance to talk and connect face-to-face.

Donors choose to participate in the program by filling out an application in advance, pledging his or her body for donation. Jaeger said Upstate has as many as 10,000 pledges on file, with some dating back to the 1970s. The program receives about 225 to 240 donations a year from a large swath of New York state – northeast to the Canadian and Vermont borders, stretching south into northern Pennsylvania, Jaeger said.

Donations to the program are critical for first year-medical students, said Dana M. Mihaila, MD, PhD, director of the Upstate Anatomical Gift Program. Anatomy is the foundation of medicine, she said.

“You cannot really be a physician without knowing the body and the best way to know the body is having gross anatomy classes,” she said. “It’s an important piece in their education.”

Students will often study the same body for most of their first year, from October to May, learning many systems of the body including cardiovascular and digestive. Residents and surgeons also regularly use the anatomy lab for continuing education, Mihaila said.

Some families may be skeptical of their loved one’s decision to donate his or her body for study, Jaeger said. The memorial service frequently changes people’s minds.

“A percentage of our donors, their families may not necessarily agree with their decision. But once they come to the memorial service and hear from the students it solidifies their feeling that they made the right decision,” he said. “And then we’ve had many people decide to donate themselves.”

To learn more about Upstate’s Anatomical Gift Program visit www.upstate.edu/cdb/donor/ or call 315-464-4348. The website includes the Anatomical Gift Pledge Form as well as frequently asked questions.

Caption: More than 500 people attend the annual memorial service honoring those who have donated their bodies for medical study through the Upstate Medical University’s Anatomical Gift Program. This year’s service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 27 in Hendricks Chapel on the Syracuse University campus.

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