VitalsSchool of Medicine

The Gift of Life

The human body is a health care professional’s first patient. Life experiences and disease states leave their mark, presenting opportunities from which future generations can learn.

Individuals who choose to donate their bodies through the Willed Body Program help to advance health knowledge, education, research and training, said Kerry Gilbert, PT, Sc.D., assistant dean for anatomy, research and education, and co-director of the Institute for Anatomical Sciences with Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Dean Brandt Schneider, Ph.D.

The institute houses TTUHSC’s Willed Body Program, which has served West Texas since 1972.

There are 11 willed body programs in Texas, all located within a health science center and governed by the Texas State Anatomical Board. TTUHSC program serves the area west from Wichita Falls to the Rio Grande.

During their anatomy studies, student groups are assigned a donor cadaver. Midway through their course, they alternate to work with a different donor cadaver. Each student can study and investigate the structure and anatomy on all 32 bodies that are in use during their course, said Jason Jones, director of the Willed Body Program, who operates the program under guidance from the anatomical board.

“They’re able to see a wide range of donors and anatomy, which is important because not everybody has had the same medical conditions or the same medical disorders,” Jones said.

Seeing the anomalies is important because this is one of the courses that the students will recall mentally when examining or treating a patient, he added. Knowing how some of these diseases and disorders impact the body can help the students provide more effective care for future patients who may have similar characteristics.

At the conclusion of the course, the donor bodies are cremated, and the remains are returned to the families who have elected to receive them. Unclaimed or unreturned remains are placed in TTUHSC’s ossuary. Every Memorial Day, the university conducts a service to pay respect to the donors and their families. The service allows the families to see firsthand the impact of the gift given by them and their beloved family member.

“Individuals that are willing their body to science have come up with a way to live on even after their passing,” Jones said. “What is learned from that individual by the student is going to be carried with that student throughout their career.”

TTUHSC memorial for donors

Kami Hunt

TTUHSC ‘s memorial for donors to the Willed Body Program.