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Elon launches new anatomical gift program

By Susan Shinn Turner for the Salisbury Post

This spring, Elon University became the state’s newest program to use donors through its Anatomical Gift Program.

The program started within the Elon community, and will branch out to prospective donors in Alamance and Guilford counties and beyond, says Dianne Person, the program’s founding director.

Professors in the university’s School of Health Sciences refer to the donors as “silent teachers” or “non-living anatomy teachers,” Person says. The program — which previously used bodies from outside institutions — was built from the ground up after several years of research which was spearheaded by Dr. Janet M. Cope, professor of Physical Therapy Education. Thus far, about 100 people have registered for the program, and students will be studying nine donors beginning in January.

“We have exceeded our expectations at this point,” Person says.

Similar to other programs, The School of Health Sciences holds a farewell ceremony to honor those who have donated. The memorial service is organized by students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program and the Physician Assistant Studies program.

Person says that the Elon program is unique in that it is a non-medical school program. She hopes that the Anatomical Gift Program will be a model for other programs that are not affiliated with a medical school.

“The Elon community is interested and engaged in this program,” Person says. “It’s been so well received. Our donor registry is populated with folks from a wide range of backgrounds and professions. People donate for a variety of personal reasons. They have a desire to give back and to contribute toward health care education.”

She adds, “Our student speakers are the best representatives of the program.”

Kaylee Pobocik, a student in the doctor of physical therapy program, will graduate in 2019. She wrote a letter to her donor. It is shared with her permission.

“When I came to Elon I knew I’d be making new connections. But I never expected to make the connection that I did with you. You came to me full of untold stories, and I came to you ready to read them. New surroundings encircled both of us for a journey we did not yet know. I learned silent lessons from you, much more than scientific knowledge. You taught me the importance of compassion and empathy as my very first patient. Each and every dissection gave me a new piece of your past.

“As I long to know more about you, I create my own vision of your life. I think about who you are meeting in heaven, and those you left behind too soon. I wonder if you had a daughter, and if she was the one who painted your nails. I smile in admiration of your selfless gift. It is no surprise to me that you were a nurse, because when you were living you cared for others. And after you cared for us as your students.

“I want you to know that you are cared about, too. I will hold you in my heart as I become a physical therapist. My connection to you will enable me to connect to my future patients, and what lies beneath their skin. Rest, for I know you must be tired. Tired from the countless days of teaching. You have left your mark here at Elon, and personally on me. Let go of your physical body as you join those you’ve been waiting to see. I hope your soul has found its peace, now your physical being is coming home. Your journey may be complete, but I’ll bring you through mine if you’ll follow.”

Person says that one donor is typically studied by five students.

Then, she says, “as our students become healthcare providers and go into the communities to serve clients — some 800,000 people will have been successfully treated thanks to the magnanimous gift of just one donor. That number is staggering. In this way, our donors are creating a legacy and in this way death is not final.”

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