Body donation: remembering the gift - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Body donation: remembering the gift

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MADISON (WAOW)--People who choose to donate their body for educational purposes often leave their families with nothing to mourn. In this special report, Bonnie Shelton takes you inside the Body Donor Memorial Service at UW Madison.

It's something only a few hundred people get to do each year, and thanks to a special ceremony, families and friends can remember and honor the people who continue a legacy of giving, even in death.

"She was a really sweet woman, proper lady, very giving. She was a really great mother, grand mother, great grand mother. A wonderful giving lady she really was," said Sally Napier of her late mother. AnnaMae Napier died in December from Alzheimer's disease.

AnnaMae donated her body to UW-Madison so medical students could learn from her and her illness. On April 16th, students and staff gathered at a university lecture hall to recount the gifts they received thanks to such selfless people in front of the families who lost them.

First-year medical student Matthew Kudek understands the importance of body donation after working with the cadavers first-hand. "It's just a great way for somebody to be able to give back. It's an ultimate form of giving back. It's very selfless. You're doing something you can't get any recognition for."

Families travel from across the country to remember. To honor the lives of those who because of their gift, could not be properly mourned.

"It was odd when there's no body and there's really no service then and what do you do? You know you're a little bit, you don't know what to do," said Napier of having to say goodbye to her mother without a traditional burial.

Attending the memorial service was a given for Napier. The loss of her mother is still an open wound, raw and real. "I'm good unless I talk about her and that's when I lose it. I'm grateful that she did this and it's a wonderful...it's just so typical of my mother, though. She always thought of others first."

Getting to hear the testimony of students, who got to know a different side of her mother, helps fill some of the gaps.

"You know, the body after you're gone really is just something to decompose anyway, so better to do something with it than nothing," she said.

Students agreed. "It's a really unique experience, something that not very many people get to do. The intricacy of the body, the textbook just doesn't compare," said Kudek.

Educational body donation is a gift that will keep on giving for many generations to come. Something Sally takes directly to heart.

For the nearly 100 body donors, their final gift is one that will continue to flicker, without dying out through the care of thousands of patients. Something Napier said she will consider now that she's seen how much AnnaMae's final gift meant to students.

For more information about the UW-Madison Body Donor Program, click here.

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