Fall 2015

The Long Goodbye

In an emotional program, students honor the anatomy lab donors who taught them so much

By Bruce Morgan

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A student looks through material provided by donors’ families on a table set up for that purpose at the reception. Photos: Jake Belcher

There was instrumental music, prayer, snatches of poetry, open-hearted solo singing and a recitation by six students of names that rang like somber chimes. There were speakers whose voices cracked and others often on the verge of tears at this annual memorial service held in honor of those who had freely given their mortal remains to the gross anatomy labs at Tufts for the education of medical, dental and physician assistant students on the Boston campus. “Our hearts are filled with gratitude,” one student said quietly during the service in late spring, and by the end, everyone in the Sackler auditorium knew the feeling.

First-year dental student Chelsea Johnston greets Mary R. Thomas of Hingham, Massachusetts.

Medical school Dean Harris Berman opened the formal program by thanking the donors and their families who had made the students’ learning possible through their generosity. “For the families,” he observed, “we hope this brings closure to their losses.” A moment later, Henry Klapholz, dean of clinical affairs at the medical school, noted that the donors’ gift of their bodies was more than a one-time gift. Through their improved understanding of anatomy, the students would later extend the gift to their patients—and thus the wider world. Along these lines, Paul Kwan, course director for dental gross anatomy, had done some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Using 450 students as this year’s total number of anatomy-class participants—200 medical, 200 dental, plus 50 physician-assistant students—he estimated that hypothetically as many as 1.4 million patients stood to benefit from the gift over the course of the recipients’ careers.

Jessie Paull, ’15, understood the donors’ bequest intimately. Her grandfather, Nason Burden, ’42, had become an orthopedic surgeon because of his experience in the anatomy lab, she reported, and went on to enjoy a 69-year career in medicine. “His passion for surgery began here at Tufts,” she said. Paull’s father, Daniel Paull, ’78, caught the same passion; he has been a cardiovascular surgeon for the past few decades. Now came Jessie’s turn. This summer she began her training as a general surgeon at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

At the close of the formal program, after Emily Mackey, ’18, and her friend Cooper Lloyd had played a lilting duet of “Appalachian Waltz” on their twin violins, the hundreds of people gathered recessed to the second floor of Sackler for an informal lunch. This gave a chance for white-coated students to interact with the friends and family members of the donors, who sat nibbling pasta at tables in several adjacent rooms.

Dorothy Buccieri of Watertown, Massachusetts, daughter of Angela Barbato, pauses at the reception.

The mood was settled and appreciative. Many guests called the day’s event “inspirational.” “I had no idea what to expect, and I was very impressed,” one woman volunteered. Another guest commented on the unexpectedly high quality of the music he had heard, noting, “I think Berklee [College of Music] might have some competition.”

Joe Maddux, a balding, middle-aged man who had been a close friend of a donor named Fred—the two men had played together in a bluegrass band for many years—took some credit for his friend’s generosity. “I’m a chiropractor,” Maddux explained, “and I told Fred about my experience in anatomy. I think that stuck in his head.” The day before he died, Fred took off his oxygen mask and said, “How about Tufts?”

Maddux drew comfort from his friend’s example, whose value had only been underscored by the morning ceremony. “It helps me knowing that’s what he wanted and that it benefits humanity,” he said. Fred’s 30-ish nephew, Billy, seated nearby, had found the Tufts program meaningful as well. “All his life he was a giving character,” Billy said of his uncle, with a slow shake of his head. “He just took it one step further at the end.” Billy said he now planned to follow suit and donate his own body when the time came.

The service seemed to provide the kind of closure that Berman had spoken of. Jeffrey Clemens’s mother, who died of cancer in early January at age 71, had arranged in advance for her body’s prompt disposition to Tufts. “She set it all up, and took care of everything,” Clemens remarked “which meant that the night she passed, they took her body.”

This abruptness at the end, and the immediate removal of his mother’s body, had left a kind of emotional emptiness in him—an unfinished feeling, Clemens suggested, before adding, “Today was the first day that felt like there was peace.”

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