Published July 8, 2021
More than 400 friends and family members of individuals who donated their bodies to furthering medical science at UB gathered on July 1 to collectively honor their generosity.
The ceremony, which took place in Skinnersville Cemetery on the North Campus, recognizes those whose donations are a critical part of the education of students at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB and the university’s other health sciences schools.
This year’s ceremony honored the memory of more than 200 donors whose ashes were interred in a communal grave at the cemetery.
“We are here today to honor the amazing generosity your loved ones have bestowed on all of us,” said John Tomaszewski, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Peter A. Nickerson PhD Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the Jacobs School.
“Nothing can take away the loss of a loved one,” he said, “but by these incredible acts of generosity, your loved ones have given a little more meaning to our lives.”
And in some families, that generosity has become a cherished tradition. At the ceremony, more than a dozen members of one family gathered to remember their parents — or grandparents — both of whom were donors. That act has now been passed on to the next generation; the couple’s five adult children have signed up to be donors to UB’s program, too.
The most direct benefits of that generosity, of course, go to the students who study gross anatomy, whether they are enrolled in the Jacobs School, the School of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing or the School of Public Health and Health Professions.
The students see the donors as their teachers who taught them throughout the entire 16 weeks of an often grueling semester.
“They taught us in silence, with their generosity, selflessness and commitment to medical education,” said Nicole Gorski, who addressed the gathering with Andrea Alfonsi, both Jacobs School students in the Class of 2024.
Ray Dannenhoffer, director of the Anatomical Gift Program and senior associate dean for support services in the Jacobs School, said that for the students, the donors are, in a real sense, their first patients. “They carry the memory of that gift with them for their whole careers,” he said.
He added that in the end, it is all of society that ultimately benefits because of the intense and profound educational experience that the donors make possible for the health care providers of tomorrow.
Tomaszewski concluded: “The world is a better place because of the generosity of your loved ones.”
UB’s Anatomical Gift Program holds the non-denominational ceremony every 18 to 24 months so that families can commemorate loved ones whose ashes were interred in a communal grave; other families choose to have the ashes of their loved one returned to them or buried in a service that they arrange.
UB Monsignor Patrick Kelleher gave the opening and closing prayers. The service concluded with the release of dozens of butterflies and a short reception.