June 25, 2008

Thanking Those Who Made the Ultimate Donation


David and Trudy Simon of Glen Burnie decided to donate their bodies to medical research five years ago, regardless of what their family and friends thought.

Mrs. Simon, 64, died at Baltimore Washington Medical Center in 2006, after a seven-year battle with emphysema. In keeping with her wishes, the Maryland Anatomy Board took custody of her body for use in a medical program.

Now that the research has been completed, Mrs. Simon's body was cremated and placed among the more than 700 urns that were interred at the Springfield Hospital Center's cemetery in Sykesville last week. State officials held a service to honor their contributions to science.

The Simons' decision has sparked some rethinking among family members. One of Mrs. Simon's sisters also is filling out paperwork to become a donor, while one of her brothers is considering it.

But Mr. Simon said he felt even more affirmed in his choice after the ceremony.

"It's like I've come to see my own service," said Mr. Simon of Glen Burnie. "(The service) was very kind and the words were meaningful."

Currently, there are 70,000 people statewide who have agreed to donate their bodies to the Anatomy Board after their death.

After a donor dies, the body is taken and the state's medical and dental students use it for real-life study. Cremation is conducted once the research is complete, which is typically 1 to 1 yearsafter the death.

State law changed over the years, which allowed individuals to voluntarily donate their bodies. In the 1970s, such cadavers were used for the advancement in implants, kidney transplants and other medical advancements, said Ronald S. Wade, director the Anatomy Board. About 1,500 cadavers are available for research each year.

The service on June 16 was interdenominational, featuring words of comfort from the Islamic Society of the Washington Area and Springfield Hospital's chaplain.

Dr. Larry Anderson, vice chairman of the Anatomy Board, recalled the female cadaver he used for dissection when he was a medical student, about 40 years ago. He named her "Harriet" and later learned that the woman had been a teacher.

"She was (also) a teacher for me," said Dr. Anderson, of University of Maryland's Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. "I'm still teaching students for Harriet."

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