RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Nancy Stern-Seligman watched yesterday as canoes paddled by Magic Island carrying the ashes of people who donated their bodies to the UH Medical School. Both her parents, Harold and Karen Stern, donated their bodies to the school.
University of Hawaii medical students honor those who donated their bodies to the school and donors' families
EACH TIME she walked into the anatomy lab as a beginning medical student, Erin Gertz said she was "awed not by death, but by life and by how life works in the human body."
A second-year student in the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, Gertz described the marvels of "the many delicate muscles that work together to allow us smile or to make a fist; miles of blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the pinky toe and back again."
"Yards of intestine, with convoluted folds and switchbacks which increase the surface area enough to allow us to digest a cookie; even the tiny sensory nerves responsible for the dreadful pain from a paper cut."
Gertz was among medical students participating in a ceremony yesterday honoring 114 residents who donated their bodies the past two years for UH medical education.
About 250 relatives and friends attended the program at the new medical school in Kakaako, filling the auditorium and overflowing into an adjacent room with closed-circuit TV.
The service traditionally is held every two years but may be held annually starting next year, said Steve Labrash, director of the Anatomy Department's Willed Body Program.
The medical students, distinguished by their white coats, planned the touching program, he said. They expressed their gratitude for the donated bodies through written and verbal reflections, music, dance and poetry.
Joyful moments in the donors' lives were remembered in a slide show that brought tears to many watching.
Drs. Aleza and Eric Matayoshi, their two children and her mother, Michiko, posed for a family picture by a display of donors' photos that included her father.
Matayoshi said her father, Art Call, planned many years in advance to will his body to the medical school. "He wanted to be of use dead as well as alive."
Labrash said the medical school has the capacity to store 50 bodies and averages that many donations annually.
Gertz said more than 600 people have donated their bodies to the program since it was established by the medical school in 1967.
The donors have represented Hawaii's diverse cultural and ethnic background; some were husbands and wives, and many were educators, "possibly wanting, as Steve says, 'to teach after death as they did during life,'" she said. "Now, they have all been educators."
Misha Kassel, also a second-year student, said those who give their bodies to medical science contribute to every patient the students will see as they become doctors.
"You can learn and read stuff in books (about the body), but it is not the same as putting your hands on it," he said. "The donors will forever be part, not only of their families and friends, but of the healing process."
Among written messages to families on display, first-year student Healani Calhoun said: "The human body is a miraculous work of art. No textbook can do it justice. And that is why I am very grateful for the selflessness and generosity of your family member."
Dorothy Bobilin, attending the ceremony with relatives, said she and her husband Robert decided long ago to will their bodies to the medical school. "We said it's important for students to have bodies in order to learn the right thing to do," she said.
Her husband, former chairman of the UH Department of Religion and founding director of the Matsunaga Institute of Peace, died at home Dec. 22, 2004, she said.
Red velvet bags with ashes of the honorees were displayed among flowers on a table in front of the auditorium during the service.
Ashes of 40 donors were spread at sea after the ceremony by medical students on four Anuenue and Waikiki Yacht Club canoes with families watching from Magic Island.
Remains of other donors were picked up by the families.