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Physical therapy graduate students Dan Chapman (left) and Tyler Tice (right) pose with Dana and Leslie Shreve, whose mother Ginny donated her body to the University of Delaware College of Health Sciences.
Physical therapy graduate students Dan Chapman (left) and Tyler Tice (right) pose with Dana and Leslie Shreve, whose mother Ginny donated her body to the University of Delaware College of Health Sciences.

Anatomical donor ceremony

Photo by Allen Qian

Health sciences students thanked the families of anatomical donors

The University of Delaware College of Health Sciences (CHS) held an Anatomical Donor Memorial Ceremony to honor those who have donated their bodies to the college. More than 100 family members, students and faculty attended the student-led ceremony, which gave health sciences scholars an opportunity to properly thank donors’ family members and express the impact of their loved ones’ gift.

The event also gave a sneak peek into the future design of the CHS’ memorial labyrinth — a contemplative hardscape surrounded by lush plantings. Its inspiration is to honor these donors, who serve as incredible teachers for both the Department of Physical Therapy and the Department of Kinesiology and Applied Physiology.

Physical therapy graduate students Daniel Chapman and Tyler Tice, who are pursuing doctoral degrees in the No. 1 program in the nation, took the lead on organizing the personalized event with the help of a student committee.

“We wanted to make sure that the families understood the impact on UD students,” said Tice, who studied in the college’s Human Anatomy Lab as an undergraduate and graduate student. “We also wanted to give each family the respective time they deserved.”

In the summer of 2017, Chapman pitched the idea of a ceremony to Ellen Wruble Hakim, director of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. With the support of Wruble Hakim and CHS Dean Kathleen Matt, he surveyed his physical therapy classmates.

“We were so grateful to these people for their incredible donations, but we didn’t have an outlet to show it,” said Chapman. “When we polled graduate students about a ceremony, they were overwhelmingly in favor.”

The service gave family members of donors the chance to speak directly with students who benefited from this generous gift.

“There is an emotional experience of actually interacting with a person. That sears information into your mind that a PowerPoint or an app cannot,” Chapman said. “The power of that experience makes absorption of that information so much more effective. This serves as a foundation for our education, but, most importantly, it also shapes our care of future patients. These anatomical gifts end up touching so many patients’ lives over the course of a health professional’s career.”

In a textbook, students are typically presented with ideal or normal anatomy. Through working with a diverse group of cadavers, students experience anatomical variability — differences in structures mainly caused via genetics.

“Actually seeing how scoliosis looks in an actual person as opposed to PowerPoint is an entirely different experience,” Chapman said.

Tice added, “Understanding the three-dimensional form of everything is so impactful. For example, we learn what a muscle fiber is and how there are multiple muscle fibers per muscle. You get a picture of that from a textbook and visualize that in your head. Then you really understand when you see it on a real person. And that’s just a muscle; the same goes for all of the body parts.”

The immense, emotional impact of these donations was not lost on the graduate students.

“Your loved ones created the foundation for the knowledge that I gained throughout PT school,” physical therapy graduate student Chet Seaman told the audience. “And while we did not know them personally, it is very humbling to stand up here, see all of your faces and realize that — outside of anatomy — one thing they all had in common is that they were loved.”

Grateful family members

Virginia “Ginny” S. Shreve passed away in October 2017 after a full life of 98 years. After a career in healthcare, Ginny wanted her body to be useful in teaching future healthcare professionals. Ginny’s mother donated her body to science in her home state of Georgia. When Ginny relocated to Delaware in 1996, she quickly completed the paperwork to donate her body locally.

Family members of donors like Ginny were invited to this inaugural ceremony. Ginny’s daughter Leslie, son Dana and daughter-in-law Lynn attended in honor on her behalf. Dana was also asked to offer remarks on behalf of his family.

“Everything was first class from when we received an invitation all the way down the line. It was so unexpected and heart-warming at the same time,” said Dana. “Speaking with [academic program coordinator] Jeanne Warrington, Tyler and Dan — it all was just delightful.”

The Shreve’s were struck by the students’ authenticity for those who donated their bodies to the college.  

“I was really struck by the gratitude and the kindness from the students,” said Ginny’s daughter-in-law Lynn. “It was such a kind, thoughtful ceremony.”

Since the ceremony, Dana decided to continue the family tradition; he will donate his remains to UD when he passes.

Ceremony participants

Every year, about 25 people donate their bodies to the Department of Physical Therapy and the Department of Kinesiology of Applied Physiology. The 2018 ceremony honored the donations and families of those who have donated to UD, and included remarks about Harold W. Deubert, Thomas D. Goodrich, Marie Ann Gregory, Charles Lutz, Robert “Bob” D. Miller, Walter T. Moore and Virginia “Ginny” S. Shreve. The ceremony honored all donations, but included specific remarks about individuals whose families were able to attend.

Faculty speakers included CHS Dean Kathleen S. Matt, Associate Professor Dave Barlow (Behavioral Health and Nutrition) and former UD Professor Joe Zeni (Physical Therapy). Student presentations were diverse and meaningful, including readings, music, poems and personalized speeches. Presenters and contributors included Salena Jacobs, Johanna Taylor, Chet Seaman, Tyler Tice, Maggie Ryan, Corey Koller, Caroline Howard, Rachel Yates, Tory Engel, Nikki Patel, Jacob Capin, Hilary Dean, Alexandre Abdoulaev, the UD Chorale and Dan Chapman.

How do I donate?

At the front desk of the STAR Health Sciences Complex, the College of Health Sciences can provide its Anatomical Gift Donor Form. For more information, contact Joshua Stefanik at stefanik@udel.edu or 302-831-3922.

A concept board illustrated the future College of Health Sciences’ memorial labyrinth, which will honor anatomical donors.
A concept board illustrated the future College of Health Sciences’ memorial labyrinth, which will honor anatomical donors.

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