Hundreds attend mass burial honoring dead who gave bodies to science

The Baltimore Sun
Family, friends and medical students honor those who donated their bodies to science.

Every year for the past five years, Beverly Comer has made the hourlong drive from Belcamp to visit her mother at the Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville — even though she died 15 years ago.

A patch of grass near the hospital is the final resting place for her mother, Faye Truscott, and thousands of others like her who decided to donate their bodies to science.

"I come here every year to talk to her for a few minutes and lay some flowers for her," Comer said Monday afternoon. She was joined by about 300 people at the Carroll County hospital center, where those who donated their bodies to the Anatomy Board of Maryland are honored each year during a mass burial ceremony.

Ronn S. Wade, director of the state anatomy board, said the ashes of 703 people were buried this year.

Joining the family and friends of those buried were current medical students, many of whom just finished working with a cadaver during their first year of medical school. Anatomical dissection is a required first-year class that requires working with a cadaver for four or more hours each day.

For students from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and University of Maryland School of Medicine, the ceremony provided some closure.

"There's an incredible intimacy, and then, all of a sudden it's over and they're sort of taken away," said Anna Goddu, a Hopkins student. "For us, there's a sense of wanting to remember them and keep them part of our sense of self as students and as health care providers going forward."

Hopkins medical students are working to build a garden on campus to honor and remember the donors, Goddu said.

Four members of the University of Maryland medical school's a cappella group performed the national anthem during the ceremony.

"There's really no more that you can give than yourself," Milton Gholston, a Maryland medical student, said of the donors. "That's what you're born with, and that's what you have.

"To give that to strangers you'll never meet and never know — that's unbelievable."

Howard Haft, the state's deputy secretary for public health, said the people who donated their bodies showed "another level of dedication." And the Rev. Edward Richardson said it was significant that the ceremony was held on the summer solstice — the longest day of the year.

"They knew that it may be the winter of their lives, but they can contribute to an eternal spring ... and influence generations yet to come," Richardson said.

Comer said Truscott donated her body to science after working as a nurse for more than 30 years at the Perry Point VA Medical Center. It was her mother's final attempt to help others, Comer said.

About 2,200 bodies were given to the state anatomy board last year, Wade said — 60 percent to 70 percent of which were donated. Other bodies go to the board if they are not claimed by relatives. Half of the donated bodies are cremated and given to families after their use.

The others rest under a single tombstone.

"This monument has been placed with deep appreciation for those who gave unselfishly of themselves to advance medical education and research," it says.

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