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Daniel, left, and Donald Jaeger can cover for each other in their jobs with the anatomy laboratory/anatomical gift program and the autopsy service. People often mistake one brother for the other.  Photo by Jim Howe.
Daniel, left, and Donald Jaeger can cover for each other in their jobs with the anatomy laboratory/anatomical gift program and the autopsy service. People often mistake one brother for the other. Photo by Jim Howe.

Double duty: Training in funeral service prepared twins for Upstate jobs


Doing odd jobs for a funeral home across the street from their boyhood home in Red Creek started the Jaeger brothers on the path to their eventual careers at Upstate. 

The identical twins work for the autopsy service and the anatomical gift program. For more than two decades, each has covered for the other during a vacation or sick day. 

Donald Jaeger is the technical director of the autopsy service, and Daniel Jaeger is the technical director of the anatomy laboratory and the anatomical gift program, which handles the donation of a person’s remains for study by anatomy students. 

People frequently mistake one for the other, but there are subtle differences. “He’s a little thinner than I am. I’m the more nourished twin,” Daniel says with a smile. 

Each brother had worked as a licensed funeral director before starting at Upstate, and their training impressed on them the importance of professionalism and compassion as they deal with grieving families. 

For example, if someone needs to identify a relative who has died in the emergency room, or a family has to travel a long way to Syracuse after a loved one dies, there is a special room for this purpose, so the last goodbye doesn’t take place in a morgue or a busy ER. 

That room is the refurbished former autopsy room at Upstate University Hospital; all autopsies are now done at Upstate Community Hospital. 

“We both work closely with grieving families, so we have experience dealing with people who have lost a loved one,” Daniel said, noting that Upstate’s spiritual care service offers additional support. 

“Part of my responsibilities are preparing the donor, talking to families, getting all the permits filed and helping to organize the annual memorial service held each year. We teach students how to care for and respect the donor, not just learning the anatomy itself,” Daniel said. Dana Mihaila, MD, PhD, is the program director overseeing the anatomical gift program and the anatomy lab. 

Donald, who received autopsy training at the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office, oversees the autopsy service. These autopsies are generally requested by a family to determine the cause of death for a current or recent hospital patient and may add helpful information to a family’s medical history. Donald also teaches the technical parts of an autopsy, such as organ removal, to pathology classes supervised by Robert Stoppacher, MD, the medical director of the autopsy service. 

The Jaegers grew up in Red Creek, a 45-minute drive northwest of Syracuse. “There was a funeral home across the street from us, and we started helping out with the yard work,” Daniel recalled. That led to helping with calling hours and funerals and the brothers pursuing a career in funeral service, thinking they might own a funeral home together someday. 

Each brother had been working at a private funeral home when they applied for job openings at Upstate. Daniel was hired in 1998, and when Donald was hired in 2002, the running joke was that they could cover for each other, and no one would be able to tell which one was which, Dan recalled, laughing. 

As it turned out, the brothers do cover for each other, which means they never have the same time off from work, and between them and Stoppacher, the system can keep going when one brother is absent. 

“The dynamics of our positions require us to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They’re unique positions within the institution,“ Donald noted. “You can’t get just anybody to do what we do, deal with grieving families, facilitate donating to science, those kinds of things.” 

Do the brothers have any regrets about not owning a private funeral home together? 

“Regrets? No. We’re very passionate about what we do here, both of us,” Donald said. “We’ve dedicated our lives to helping grieving families we devoted a great deal of our time to running these programs and training the next generation of health care professionals. No, we don’t have any regrets at all.” 

This story appears in the 2024 Upstate Health magazine, Issue 1