Health and medical research
An Extraordinary Gift
Each year, nearly 1000 Californians make an extraordinary gift to the University of California by donating their bodies or those of a loved one to support the education of health professionals and to further scientific research.
Narrator: It is a remarkable service that takes place at University of California medical schools every year. A chance for first-year medical students to give thanks and to remember:
Christopher Tang, UC medical student: This is a cadaver memorial service. We knew this was another person, who out of the goodness of their heart donated their body for us to study. And hopefully we can take the knowledge we learn from this body and really apply it in our professional career to help other people. Behind all the nerves and muscles, there’s a soul and spirit behind it.
Rev. Sandra Yarlott: It’s quite remarkable to think about a person who you do not know, offering their body to you as a gift for your learning.
Tom Troffey, donor’s son: Interesting to me is that she was such a contributor to life that even in death, she is making a contribution to life through the donor program here at the medical center, she’s indirectly training the next generation of physicians who will be a wellspring of life to a future population.
Besim Uzgil, UC medical student: There’s more than just knowledge. [Blaise] Pascal said man is but a reed, but a thinking reed and that is what sets all this part. And there’s more than just knowledge that was being passed through this, there is a certain beauty inside of it. “We are but human, but behold our highest merit – that is, one gift of granting knowledge so we may think and share it.” Seeing everyone study together, the faculty, this is the reason that I became a doctor and I think this more than anything – for me, this represents what medical school is about, the tradition, everything.
Shahbaz Farnad, UC medical student: I never knew your name, I never knew where you were from, I never knew your face, I never knew your voice. I committed every twist and turn of each an every vein and artery to memory. Touched every nerve, grasped every muscle, embraced your heart, held your hand through it all. Whatever your reason, whatever your purpose, I hope you knew your memory will live forever in my mind.
Dr. Allen Nissenson, UC associate dean: There is absolutely nothing that compares in medical education to a student working with the human body. They need to have worked with a human body to have touched the organs, to have seen how the blood vessels connect to various organs, how the nerves come in.
Dr. Bradley Strong, UC assistant professor: We need to have human specimens, people who will donate their organs and their tissues, we need to have used those tissues, applied those techniques in the lab before we can move ahead and go into the operating room and work and help patients.
Narrator: Approximately a thousand whole body donations are received at UC medical schools every year. At San Diego, Irvine, Davis, San Francisco and UCLA where this historic program began.
Dr. Carmine Clemente, Distinguished Professor: It was really an outstanding concept. It was the first willed body program in the world and from that beginning, every other state that had medical schools in this country developed a program.
Dr. Allen Nissenson: Everyone in the medical profession considers donating a body for medical science purposes, education and teaching is a profound gift and a very difficult decision for any donor and donor family.
Narrator: Renee Trist decided to donate her body when she dies. Suffering from a debilitating disease for fifteen years, she hopes to impact the future of medicine.
Dr. Allen Nissenson: There are myriad examples of advances in medicine that would not have occurred without the availability of human bodies.
Rene Rose Trist: A lot of people still don’t understand why I’m doing this. At first my daughter said, “why would you do that, Mother? They felt like they would not have a place to go talk to me, they would not have a grave to visit.” My reply to them is, “you know that they brightest star up there is me always looking down at you and you talk to that star and I’m going to hear you.”
Dr. Allen Nissenson: I believe families should look at this as a wonderful gift that someone gives at the end of their life, it’s a way that someone can extend their reach beyond their life and influence the lives of so many other people. But it’s really a gift to society and to the world.
Neeta Varshney, UC medical student: The legacy of the person donating, their life really continues in a way through our hands.
Eric Fein, UC medical student: After this year of anatomy lab, I feel compelled to donate my own body in the future.
Besim Uzgil, UC medical student: I’ve wondered about all these things – the heart, what an artery looked like and none of it made as clear sense as I saw it in a natural human body and I can’t, I could never express that, how much that means to me.
“A child’s yearning to know, answered by your wisdom in understanding what it is that sets man apart, your compassion is still thriving as such a call is an answer to tell them, but illuminates the most human heart.” So many thoughts – that’s why I had to write that poem, but I think what these people have done for us is like everyone has been saying, it’s going to follow us for the rest of our lives.