Families seated under tent at memorial service.

Raymond P. Dannenhoffer, PhD, speaks to those gathered during the UB Anatomical Gift Program Memorial Service at the Skinnersville Cemetery.

Anatomical Gift Donors Honored at Memorial Service

Published July 9, 2021

story by bill bruton

The appreciation and gratitude for those individuals who donated their bodies to medical science was in evidence throughout a moving tribute to their sacrifice during the UB Anatomical Gift Program Memorial Service.

“These incredible individuals had the foresight to look toward their future and see that they could continue to have an impact. ”
Nicole Gorski
Member of the Jacobs School’s Class of 2024

UB conducts the service every other year so that families can commemorate loved ones whose bodies were donated to the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. More than 400 family members of those individuals who donated their bodies were in attendance at this year’s ceremony.

Medical Students Grateful

Nicole Gorski, a rising second-year medical student, is grateful to those who donated their bodies to the program.

“These incredible individuals had the foresight to look toward their future and see that they could continue to have an impact,” Gorski said. “They saw the possibilities and the promise of evoking knowledge long after their passing and had the willingness to donate their bodies to do so. That is the gift for which there will never be sufficient words to express my gratitude.”

She also spoke about what the donors mean to her and her fellow medical students.

“Most people remember great teachers in their life who stand out among the rest,” she added. “But those individuals we are here to remember today, those who donated their bodies for our education, they were the greatest of teachers, even in death.”

Gorski also remembered the family members in attendance.

“I will forever be thankful for the donors and their immeasurable gift, but I’d also like to thank each of you here today. Thank you for lending your family members to us, thank you for sharing them, for allowing us the great privilege of learning from them,” she said. “I hope you know that they have forever left their mark on so many students.”

Andrea Alfonsi, a fellow member of the Class of 2024, reminded those gathered how unique and special all individuals who donate their bodies are.

“They taught me that everyone has something inside them that makes an anatomy expert say, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful,’ or ‘I’ve never seen that before,’” Alfonsi said. “It is my honor to see you today. Thank you for sharing this occasion with me.”

Communal grave marker with roses.

Roses are left in remembrance of loved ones at a communal grave honoring those who donated their bodies to the UB Anatomical Gift Program.

Donors Are ‘The Greatest Teachers’

Raymond P. Dannenhoffer, PhD, associate dean for support services and director of the program, spoke about the lasting impact those who donate their bodies have on the medical students, the medical school and science in general.

“If you donate your body to the university, you live forever. The last thing you did with your life was say, ‘I want to continue to help people.’ It’s the last thing you did,” Dannenhoffer said.

“When they enrolled in the program, they were sent a butterfly pin. Across the top it says ‘The Greatest Teachers.’ Because they are the greatest teachers,” Dannenhoffer added.

The diligence and dedication of those associated with the program and the generosity of the Western New York community have made the program extremely successful.

The program — the largest in New York State and one of the largest in the country — now receives about 800 donations a year, up more than 250 percent in the past 15 years.

Dept. Chair Recognizes ‘An Amazing Program’

This year’s service was originally planned for 2020, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The loss of a loved one in the context of COVID is really a huge burden. Nothing can take away the loss that you’ve suffered, nothing perhaps other than the act of giving. We’re here to honor the amazing and the fundamental and the foundational generosity that your loved ones have bestowed on all of us,” said John E. Tomaszewski, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences.

“Your loved ones’ choices to give of themselves to the UB Anatomical Gift Program have bestowed a blessing on us that I don’t think I can calculate,” Tomaszewski added. “This is an amazing program, and the world is a better place because of the generosity of your loved ones.”

Ceremony Concludes With Butterfly Release

Communal gravesite in foreground, tent for memorial service in distance.

Roses are plentiful next to the communal gravesite at the Skinnersville Cemetery as the memorial service takes place in the foreground.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, those in attendance released 144 monarch butterflies as a symbol of the program. Families were also given a blanket with the butterfly logo on it and were encouraged to take one of the roses available at the gravesite as a remembrance.

The beautiful ceremony took place July 1 at the Skinnersville Cemetery next to UB’s North Campus.

Monsignor J. Patrick Keleher, director of the Newman Center at UB, gave the closing prayer. A reception followed the service.

Some donors’ ashes were interred in a communal grave at the cemetery, while other families chose to have their loved ones’ ashes returned to them or buried privately.