Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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January 29, 2013

Cadavers honored in med student dissection lab

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More than three dozen students, donors' relatives and campus staff members crowded the anatomy lab during Friday's memorial, surrounding the tables and standing solemnly along the room's perimeter. Some dabbed their eyes as prayers and remembrances were said, but faces were mostly stoic and there was no sobbing. The lab's usual odor of formaldehyde was strangely absent, masked perhaps by the sweet aroma of bouquets decorating the cadaver tables.

Some donors' relatives wore formal funeral attire. Terry, noting her plain pink T-shirt, said her sister wasn't a fancy person, either. Terry closed her eyes and struggled not to cry during the service, saying beforehand that Clemens "would be upset if I did."

Abdullah Malik, a medical student who worked on Judy Clemens, thanked her in a letter he read aloud during the ceremony.

"To have the courage and fortitude to endure as much as she did is a testament to her strength and an inspiration to us all," he read, standing next to Clemens' sister beside the dissection table holding Clemens' remains.

Ernest Talarico Jr., an assistant professor and director of anatomy coursework, created the unusual program and began holding the laboratory ceremonies in 2007. The cadavers are considered the medical students' first patients, and students are encouraged to have contact with the donors' families during the semester, too.

At other medical schools, donated bodies remain anonymous and students never meet the families. Talarico said his program humanizes the learning experience.

Talarico views the services as life-affirming and a chance to give thanks. The education these donated bodies have provided is invaluable, he says, teaching doctors-to-be how the body works, and what causes things to go wrong.

"We look at it as a celebration of the lives of those individuals and the gift that they have given to us," Talarico said.

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