As reported by The Hartford Courant, June 3, 2006.

Posthumous Gifts Teach Life

Survivors Celebrate Lives of Body Donors

By Kira Goldenberg

FARMINGTON -- Since the fall, a dead woman has taught first-year medical student Katie Gravel almost everything one can learn about a human body.

Gravel knows her muscles, nervous system, veins and even what her heart feels like.

"Her hand was really well manicured," Gravel said of her group's cadaver. "We could tell that someone was taking really good care of this woman."

But Gravel doesn't know the name of the woman, who before death decided to donate her cadaver to the University of Connecticut medical school.

Still, the lack of that information doesn't stop the students from being grateful to those people who leave their bodies to the school's anatomical donation program.

The cadavers were the center of attention Friday as more than 300 relatives of the deceased filed into the UConn Health Center's Cafeteria to attend "A Celebration of Life." The annual event by first-year medical and dental students commemorates the deceased whose donated bodies are dissected throughout the year by groups of four students in school laboratories.

The ceremony included poetry readings, instrumental serenades, and repeated professions of gratitude by the students for the opportunity to dissect attendees' loved ones.

"They became teachers for us," dental student Raquel Capote said of the cadavers.

Though the students don't know the identities of the cadavers on the lab tables, they said that they end up knowing the deceased more intimately than the individuals even knew themselves.

"We don't know their past, we don't know their families, but everything is there," Capote said.

At the end of the program, family members streamed toward the front to address and even sing to the crowd and thank the students for allowing their loved ones a chance to continue making valuable contributions after death.

Tara Hills' late husband, Harold, who died last September at age 61, was one of the deceased being commemorated.

"Hal's gift to you provides you with invaluable hands-on experience, whether you will mend a broken tooth, or a broken heart," she told the crowd.

Other folks got up, talked a bit of their late loved ones and in one case, burst into song.

"Skinnamarinkydinkydink, skinnamarkinkydoo. I love you," two women and a man sang after reminiscing about the women's mother - and the man's mother-in-law - who died last year.

Their eyes brimmed with tears as they sang the bouncy song, the theme of "The Elephant Show," a children's TV program.

James Casso, the school's embalmer and prosector who collects the cadavers, said all the deceased are memorialized, even those whose bodies are used not by students but by physicians for practice.

After the bodies are used, UConn pays for cremation and returns the remains to the families.

Students talked before the ceremony of the little they did learn about their dissection subjects, to whom they were introduced in the fall by second-year students.

Student Glen Blomstrom smiled and said that he was told that his group's body had been "very excited about becoming a cadaver."