Anatomy Memorial at OUWB honors those who donated their bodies to med ed
An image of Bennett Hendricks playing guitar
OUWB M1 Bennett Hendricks performed Augustin Barrios’s “Julia Florida” on guitar.

Neel Patel has learned a lot during his first year as a medical student at OUWB, but one moment will stick with him for the rest of his life.

It was the first time he held a human heart in his hands.

Part of a lesson on cardiology in the school’s anatomy lab, Patel said it wasn’t lost on him that a woman had donated her body to science so that he and others could learn and one day treat countless others.

He reflected similarly on Monday, during the 2024 OUWB Anatomy Memorial, when he read a poem he wrote called “Heartfelt Legacies.”

“This heart was better than any textbook. This heart was the fuel I needed,” said Patel. “It powered my heart. My heart for medicine…for cardiology. I thank the woman whose heart I held. She is a heartfelt legacy.”

Patel read the poem to about 130 others who attended the ceremony held at Oakland University’s Oakland Center. The annual event is hosted jointly by OUWB and the Oakland University School of Health Sciences’ Physical Therapy program.

Both programs rely on such donors as part of their curricula. Students begin working with the donors at the beginning of the school year. They are considered vital to providing students with hands-on learning experiences and the ability to see the diverse variations of the human body.

The donors also are considered the students’ first patients.

And their donations carry tremendous meaning to students like Patel, whose father has recently been facing his own heart issues.

An image of Neel Patel at a podium

Neel Patel, M1, read a poem called "Heartfelt Legacies."

“It’s really personal to me,” said Patel after the memorial. “With everything that my father has been going through recently, I had the chance to see exactly what was happening in the lab and almost in real time.”

“The experience we get in the lab is like nothing you can get anywhere else,” he added.

Other speakers at the event included Stefanie Attardi, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Foundational Medical Studies; Brandon Metcalf, M.D., OUWB ’22; and Christopher Carpenter, M.D., Stephan Sharf interim dean, OUWB.

Carpenter acknowledged the “selfless act” of the donors. He reflected on his own first experiences in an anatomy lab, and how he still vividly remembers it.

“I was understandably anxious, but also humbled and filled with respect for the person in front of me who donated their body for our education,” he said. “As a student, it’s hard to imagine how your body donors help shape your lives after medical school, but they do.”

“You will never know all of the reasons why they wanted to be in the lab with you, but I am pretty sure that they wanted to help you be the best at your profession,” he continued. “They wanted you to succeed.”

Students like Patel from both programs chose to pay tribute via art.

An image of Sophie Dixon setting a flower on a table

M1 Sophie Dixon was among the speakers who all set a flower on a table prior to their turn at the podium. 

Kristen Cumming, a PT student, presented “Interpretation of Human Movement,” a video from her time as an undergrad featuring the Grand Valley State University Laker Dance Team.

OUWB M1 Bennett Hendricks performed Augustin Barrios’s “Julia Florida” on guitar.

M1 Sophie Dixon presented a painting called “The Gift of a Heart,” and M1 Myra Esmail read a collection of quotes from OUWB students and staff — all expressing gratitude to the donors.

Malli Barremkala, M.D., associate professor who teaches anatomical sciences to first- and second-year medical students, said the memorial was “beautiful” and that it helps him better understand how students process working with the donors.

Further, he said he hopes the memorial helps people understand that “the lab experience is not just for learning anatomy.”

“We sometimes hear the term ‘hidden curriculum’ and the anatomy lab is the perfect place for hidden curriculum,” said Barremkala. “Students are learning how to deal with a patient, how to communicate with their peers about a patient, and how to communicate with faculty.”

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“And it’s all happening in what I feel is a sacred place,” he added.

Other memorial attendees also talked about what the donors meant to them after the event.

“I really appreciate the gifts that the donors gave us so that we could learn anatomy in person,” said Chloe Connelly, M1. “The learning experience we receive is unmatched by anything else.”

M1 Michael Nazmifar said he was “really grateful” to the donors, too.

“I remember our first day in the anatomy lab,” he said. “We were excited and nervous, but we wanted to learn, and I can’t imagine a better way to study and learn anatomy than from the donors.”

Esmail, who also served as one of the planning committee members for the memorial, said she wanted to honor the donors and their selfless donations.

“The memorial was better than I ever could have imagined,” she said. “I hope people remember this day…and how much the donors helped us learn.”

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at adietderich@oakland.edu.

To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.

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