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Vital Signs

DMS memorial service makes the news on NPR

Each spring at Dartmouth Medical School, first-year students hold a memorial service for the families of the cadavers they've studied all year. It's a way of honoring the body donors who've become the students' silent teachers." The voice saying these words was familiar—Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition on National Public Radio (NPR), was introducing a segment reported by Susan Keese of NPR's Vermont affiliate.

"During the months they spend dissecting the cadavers," Keese explained, "the students know only their age and cause of death. In the spring, when the cremated remains are returned to the relatives, they learn more."

Held in Dartmouth's Rollins Chapel, the service was attended by students, faculty, and friends and families of the donors. "This memorial service is in recognition of your loved ones' generosity and in celebration of their lives," read the program. "We encourage you to remember your loved one by lighting a candle at the front of the chapel." As family members filed up to light candles, the evocative sounds of Pachelbel's Canon in D Major echoed through the chapel.

"I cannot put into words how much we have all learned, bene- fited, and grown from the contributions of your loved ones," began Nathaniel Link, a first-year

Sateia, in yellow, and Link pause amid the crowd after the service in Rollins Chapel.

student. Next at the lectern was Dr. Martha McDaniel, chair of anatomy. She told the families a little about the students, pointing out that although the service is obviously meaningful to the families, it's amazing how important it is to the students, too.

Poignant: Heather Sateia, the first-year student who organized this year's ceremony, read a work by Henry David Thoreau. The poignant words told of completing a cycle and returning to something greater—like a blade of grass to the earth.

Next was a time for reflection. The students had encouraged family members to submit memories of their loved ones ahead of time. Six students came forward to read excerpts. Some passages were light-hearted recollections of feeding birds and handcrafting rugs, while others told of

fleeing the Nazi regime and traveling the globe. The students interspersed these tales with mentions of their own experiences, their gratitude, their admiration for the donors.

"You opened your heart and home to many Dartmouth students and gave them the ultimate gift, your remains, to help them in their life work. You will be with us always," said Sateia.

Then the donors' names were read aloud, one by one, before a moment's silence in their memory. Again music swelled and everyone sang "Amazing Grace" as the candles burned brightly.

"After the service," reported Keese, "the future doctors and the families mingled and talked. The students recalled how hard it was at first to take apart a human body."

As the NPR segment ended, music filled the airwaves. "The students say that knowing that the donors wanted their bodies to be used in this way makes the lab work easier, but often a hint of red nail polish or a tattoo reminds them that someone special is in their hands. For NPR News, I'm Susan Keese."

"A lot of my friends," recalled Sateia a few days after the event, "went into the ceremony not expecting to become emotional—but found themselves crying."

Sion E. Rogers

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