One of two canoes holding the cremated remains of individuals who donated their bodies to the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine paddled out of the Ala Wai Harbor yesterday for a scattering at sea.

Medical school celebrates
lives of body donors

UH students recognize a gift
that makes their education possible

For the past seven months, first-year University of Hawaii medical student Cherilyn Yee has been working with a patient who never asks questions or expects a diagnosis.

The experience, she said yesterday, is more than any textbook can provide.

"Body donation is an act of generosity and courage that transcends death," she told a packed auditorium at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in a touching ceremony for the families of some 50 island residents who have given their bodies to science.

"We're learning to better understand this miraculous thing that is the human body."

More than 150 people gathered yesterday to remember the lives of their relatives -- parents, grandparents, community leaders, professors, nurses and doctors among them -- who donated their bodies to the school over the past two years.

The university's medical students also came together to acknowledge a gift that makes their education possible.

"Every patient I will help in my medical career will benefit from the gift this person made," said first-year medical student Melina Yeganeh. "Life is a gift and I think it should be used for the common good."

Jonathan Gibson, who is in his second year at the medical school, told the standing-room-only crowd of family members that it was an honor to be among them.

"These incredible people -- your loved ones -- gave something so great and so admirable," he said, "that the words 'thank you' seem inadequate."

Scott Lozanoff, director of the medical school's willed body program, said about 100 people sign up to donate their bodies to the school each year. The school receives about 50 cadavers annually.

During the remembrance yesterday, the ashes of those who donated, placed in small wooden boxes, sat in a semicircle on a table laden with candles and flowers.

The names of those who gave were read by medical students, while soft Hawaiian music played in the background.

Kusama Cooray, a professor at Kapiolani Community College, said she signed up to donate her body to the school after her husband died.

He was one of those remembered yesterday.

"He had a lot of respect for the medical profession," she said.

Sybil Gier emerged red-eyed from the service yesterday. Her husband, she said, "was always helping people." His donation was his final gift.

After the ceremony yesterday, family members scattered their loved ones' ashes off Magic Island.


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