Anatomical Gift Program’s memorial service an expression of gratitude for ‘silent teachers’

The July 12 ceremony commemorated the lives and contributions of the program’s first nine anatomical donors. 

Elon’s Anatomical Gift Program this summer marked a new milestone on July 12 when they celebrated the lives and selfless contributions of the program’s first nine anatomical donors.

Elon’s School of Health Sciences first-year Doctor of Physical Therapy students and Master of Physician Assistant Studies students gathered in the Sacred Space at the Numen Lumen Pavilion, to show gratitude to the people who donated their bodies to educate them.

Several student speakers told an audience filled with students, families and friends of donors, faculty and staff that the lessons they learned from their “silent teachers” will affect thousands throughout their career as health care professionals.

An excerpt from, “You are hearing me now because a very small bone in your ears, the stapes, the smallest bone in your body, is gently vibrating on a beautifully named structure, the oval window, which connects to the brain a window out of which, presumably you hear the world,” said Ali Tabibnejad, PA’20, speaking to the families of the donors. “No one was there when the sensory mechanics of hearing, the words stapes and oval window, their shapes and places became forged into my brain.  

“But I don’t think I was alone. When I held a stapes against a light for the first time, I noticed Beethoven’s ode to joy was playing in the background. My mind spun around a little. I got goosebumps. I got dizzy. But I wasn’t feeling fear or bewilderment. I myself had put on Ode to Joy earlier. I was feeling gratitude.”

Emily Fonke, DPT’20 talked about the impact expressions of gratitude have had on her life and the feeling of thankfulness she and her fellow students have for the donors and their families.

“As a former teacher there is nothing that touched my heart more than a thank you from a student,” Fonke said. “So as a former teacher on behalf of our classes I say thank you to one the greatest teacher I have ever had. Know that you taught us the fundamental tools of our craft that will allow us to have positive impacts on people’s health for years to come. The impact of these teachers will be felt for generations.”

Other students expressed their thanks in a video which was presented during the service.

Through their generous words, family members shared stories about their loved ones. All in attendance got a glimpse into the lives of the silent teachers. The profound connection of student and anatomical donor continued beyond the anatomy lab.

During a candle-lighting ceremony, students ignited the first flame and one by one each passed a lit candle to light the next. The ceremony was to signify the donors who so nobly gave of themselves this academic year to educate our students.

The students presented family members with a magnolia tree sapling and a plaque expressing their gratitude. The plaque included an inscription with a quote from doctor, philosopher and missionary Albert Schweitzer reading, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindles by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Following the service, all gathered in the McBride Gathering Space for light refreshments and conversation.