From death comes learning
You can read a thousand books about anatomy, and you won’t learn as much about the human body as you can in one hour at the cadaver lab.
That was the goal of Tony Winterer’s anatomy class at Park City High School, who visited the University of Utah’s cadaver lab on Nov. 2 to learn from the same corpses used by health students and physicians. "There are so many people in line to see these bodies. For a high school to be able to get in is really an honor," said Winterer. "The kids can learn a ton more about the digestive system and the knee if they actually see those real body parts and how they operate. If you see a tendon and touch a tendon you have a much better appreciation for it."
Park City is the only high school in Utah which sends students to the cadaver lab, said the U’s Dr. Kurt Albertine. Ed Mulick began about 10 years ago sending AP biology students to the lab, and Winterer has continued the tradition. "It’s exciting to bring them down because it is a unique and unusual experience to watch them identify parts, organs, blood vessels in the human body. It’s like watching someone discover something new," Albertine said. "Their faces light up, their excitement peaks, and they become increasingly curious to ask more and more questions."
Students wore gloves to handle the embalmed bodies, said sophomore Justin Altman, and could examine not only healthy corpses, but see the effects of collapsed disks, arthritis, and other health problems.
A cancerous lung was black, while a healthy one was pink, said junior Shane Hansen.
"That would tell you something" about lung cancer, said Hansen, who noted, "It was a really awesome experience."
Removed organs were available for inspection.
"The brain weighs a lot more than I thought," Altman said. "The lungs felt like sponges. It didn’t smell as bad as they tell you."
Students even had the chance to feel fatty deposits in some of the cadavers.
"It’s so hard and strong," said Ashley Bush, senior. "I feel so bad for all the people in this country who are obese because it feels so hard to get rid of."
Junior Samantha Walzer described pulling back layers of skin on the face to see which muscles activate for which facial expressions, like flaring nostrils or open eyes wide.
"It’s not what you think it’s gonna be," Walzer said. "I thought I was gonna be freaked out by seeing a body there The people didn’t even look like people. We thought it would be scary."
Bush commented, "Instead of being grossed out and freaked out, it’s just really educational."
The gall bladder is a little green bag that feels like a balloon, Walzer said.
Junior Julie Polana compared a squishy, healthy artery to one full of cholesterol, which was stiff full from a lot of fast food meals, she commented.
"It’s just something you have to see," Polana said. "If you have the opportunity to do it, don’t pass it up." Cadaver donation
Donating organs for transplant patients is a fairly well-known cause, and "organ donor" stickers on drivers licenses are not uncommon.
People giving their body to teaching hospitals like the University of Utah is fairly rare. Only about 100 people do it per year, Albertine said. Medical and other health students, doctors, EMTs, and others need access to cadavers for study.
"The only way we receive bodies is through the willful donation of individuals prior to death. We don’t accept unclaimed bodies," said Albertine, who has designated his own body will be donated to science upon death.
Anyone interested can call the Body Donor Program at the U’s department of anatomy at (801) 581-6728.
To honor donors, every year University Hospital holds a ceremony at the Salt Lake Cemetery on Memorial Day. "We depend on good will among the public to donate their bodies to us for the purpose of education and research," Albertine said.
And the experience with the cadaver lab seems to have found at least one donor.
"It made me want to donate my body to science," Bush said. For more pictures of the experience, see the Scene and Heard on page C-7.
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