Sunday, May 15, 2011


This Wednesday, Penn hosted the Humanity Gifts Registry's annual Celebration of Remembrance ceremony.

This is a ceremony "for the individuals who have provided their bodies for one final service to their fellowmen - the contribution to Medical Education and Research".  Anatomy isn't something you can learn from a textbook or a professor.  I mentioned this in my blog post after our last anatomy class too.  My class (and other medical school classes from around the city) was happy we had the chance to show the family of these brave donors how much we appreciated our donor's selflessness.

I was lucky enough to be one of the eulogizers during the ceremony.  I was also the first eulogizer (no pressure!) Fortunately, I had an awesome set of friends who helped me craft a great eulogy - thanks Asmi, Jon, Anna, Paul and Eric!  I couldn't have done with without you guys.  I can't think of a better way to express my gratitude to our donors than the speech, so here it is:

In my culture, we have an old Sanskrit adage: “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Dheivum.”  Translated, it means “Mother, Father, Teacher, God.”  Like any saying that has deep religious and spiritual roots, the literal meaning of this phrase has been argued for a very long time.  To me, it emphasizes the importance of teachers in our lives: like our mothers who teach us to play nicely with our siblings; our fathers who teach us never to start a fight; or our friends who teach us to love and share with one another. In the classroom, we may learn from a professor, or from scripture.  We also learn from our classmates, like a friend who reminds you that the hip bone’s connected to the leg bone might not be the most accurate way to describe a leg joint. We all have many teachers, and they all share common traits: they shape and form us; they guide our conscience and learning; and they ensure that we stay true to our values. In short, they help us grow: intellectually; professionally; and personally. At the core, these are all examples of paying it forward: by educating us, they show us how to make a positive impact on the world.  Maybe this ripple effect on the student’s life, as well as all other people with whom the student comes into contact, is why my culture associates teachers with divinity. 

To say that each of the donors that we honor today is a teacher is an understatement.  In my medical school alone, each donor has, in one way or another, helped instruct 168 students. I don't think I'll ever have another class as amazing as Anatomy.  I'm extremely humbled and touched that people have donated their bodies to science so we can train to become the best doctors we can be.  I would like to take a moment to thank the people and their families who make Anatomy possible.  Thank you all, so very much.  Be assured that our class (and medical school classes around the world) has learned an immense amount from our donors, lessons we could not have learned any other way.  Know that our ability to improve or save lives in the future stems from the willingness and commitment of these selfless people, and their families, to our continued education.

What I didn’t realize then was how our donors stay with us long after our Anatomy class.  Even in our classes now – where we are learning about renal artery blockages, vericoceles, or cerebral vasculature with the circle of Willis, I stop and think back to my anatomy lab and recall what the relevant structure looks like.  The anatomy experience allows me to visualize the pathological process that is happening and how it fits into a patient’s illness and treatment.  This exercise cannot be effectively learned from a professor’s lecture, a classmate’s explanation, or a textbook; it would be impossible without the contribution from our donors. Every patient we meet teaches us something. We consider our donors to be our first patients: their impact on us will, without a doubt, stay with us for life.

At the same time, I do not know who these donors were in life.  But you do.  They were fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.  They were friends.  As Pericles said many millennia ago: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”   I am sure every one of these donors had an impact on your lives.  But only a select few can make a substantive impact even after they’ve left this world.  We will soon read aloud the names of each donor, and every single person on that list is part of that select few.  Their nobility will not be forgotten, and their selflessness will continue to be greatly appreciated by us, and by our future patients.

Thank you.

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