Ohio State Dental Journal

Dreams, Hopes, and Thoughts

Reflections on Memorializing Loved Ones in the Body Donor Program

There are few gifts as profound as the gift of healing. This is the gift that body donors are, in effect, giving to generations of patients when they bequeath their bodies to science. To the more than 1,100 health sciences students who study the human body and its intricate functions through courses provided by Ohio State’s Division of Anatomy, body donors represent their first patients. Each year, College of Dentistry and College of Medicine students join together to organize a memorial service that recognizes these donors' generous gifts. The gesture is a meaningful one to the families who remain behind.

“For me, it was additional closure,” said Angela Herde of a recent memorial service. Ms. Herde was one of the several hundred family members who gathered at Ohio State’s Mershon Auditorium for an event that honored the 215 people who had bequeathed their bodies to the Body Donor program. “Some people might not understand the program or its educational value until they attend this service. I appreciated the things the students said that increased my understanding of how the donors helped them.” 

Some people might not understand the program or its educational value until they attend this service. I appreciated the things the students said that increased my understanding of how the donors helped them.”  — Angela Herde

Ms. Herde was unique in that she had two family members—her mother and an aunt—who were memorialized. Her mother, Alberta Herde, understood the importance of the Body Donor program because of her 40-year career as a nurse. “My mother believed people should give back any way they can. She gave of herself when she was living and she wanted to give of herself when she died,” said Ms. Herde.

“My aunt Amina had different reasons for donating her body,” continued Ms. Herde. “Being an artist, she had a different perspective on the human body. She wanted people to learn from her even after she died.” Amina Robinson was a Columbus, Ohio, artist whose sculptures and mixed-media paintings are displayed at galleries and museums worldwide.

“I thought it was memorable when a student said this was their first real patient,” said Ms. Herde as she reflected on the ceremony. “I thought about how much my mother would have appreciated that remark. And my Aunt Amina would have been glad to hear the student who said this experience helped them understand the beauty and structure of the body in a new way.” 

After a final pause, Ms. Herde concluded, “Someone else said they wondered about the donors’ dreams, hopes, and thoughts. I appreciated that.”