On Saturday, April 8th, the Anatomical Donor Program at UAB held a memorial service to honor those who have selflessly donated their bodies to medical education. In life, these compassionate individuals made the decision to donate the most precious gift they had so that they could be the “first patient” of many future healthcare professionals. As a first year medical student, it has been a unique privilege to learn from our anatomical donors, to actually examine the heart and the lungs and the kidneys as we learn about them in class.
The service was beautiful. It was primarily run by students from various schools that have learned alongside our donors this year: medicine, dentistry, physician assistant, health professions, and more. Students lit candles, wrote thank you cards, and stood up to read poems or passages. One of my fellow first year MSTP students, Andrew Schroeder, sang a breathtaking version of Hallelujah (and I am SO proud of him!).
My favorite part of the service, aside from simply meeting those who loved our donors so dearly in life, was seeing the table at the front. It was draped in a white tablecloth, and we lit candles to represent each school that has been touched by someone’s anatomical gift. Each family was able to bring a picture of their loved one and place it at the front of the table, where they all were illuminated by the candles. It was overwhelmingly humbling to see the faces of selfless, compassionate people whose legacy will live on forever through the hands and hearts of myself and my future colleagues.
I also had the incredible honor of writing a passage to our donors and reading it aloud to their families during the service. I would like to share it below. I’ve titled it, “I Hope You Know.”
To my greatest teacher:
I hope you know that I was scared, the first time I met you. I have never met anyone the way we did, and I know I will never have that treasured opportunity again. I was scared of the things I didn’t know, of being entrusted with such a great gift, and of making mistakes as I walked the long road towards my dream of becoming a doctor.
I hope you know that you represent every part of both who I am and who I hope to be. The science I have learned in these past few months, studying alongside you, is not anything that can be captured in books or in lectures. Yet beyond that, the essence of who you are has inspired me to be greater, to strive for more. To know that you chose to give me an indescribable gift – without ever knowing me, without ever seeing its impact – is mesmerizing.
I hope you know that I will carry your gift with me forever and that it will change who I am as a person. Because of you, I realize that the best gift is not one that proclaims its greatness, but one that gives everything it has to make someone else’s life even a little bit richer. Because of you, I will seek out opportunities to love more, to learn more, and to give greater, even in times when no one notices.
I hope you know that you have been with me, both in my best days and in my worst, and that you have seen me grow in ways that few others will understand. I hope you know, too, that it has been a precious gift to experience each of those days with you.
I hope you know that you have changed not one life, but many. Because of you, dozens of lives in the future will be saved, improved, restarted, or somehow altered. I can only hope that my life will someday matter as much as yours has and forever will.
And, perhaps above all, I hope you know how indescribably grateful I am that you existed and that our paths crossed. Thank you for letting me experience a small portion of your journey, for letting me hold it within my heart as a part of my own journey.
Thank you, wholeheartedly, from a medical student to her greatest teacher.
-Emily Hayward, MS-1