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Body donations leave a lasting medical legacy

OHSU students honor donors, families at annual service
duryee horizontal
Frances Louise Duryee died in Dec. 2016 at the age of 84, but continued to teach others by allowing medical students to study her body through the OHSU Body Donation Program. Duryee is one of the approximately 120 donors the program accepts each year. (Family photo)

The mysteries of the human body troubled microbiologist Frances Louise Duryee at least twice.

First, her sister Lois unexpectedly died of an aneurysm in 1965, leaving the Duryee family devastated. Later in life, Frances suffered from debilitating scoliosis and osteoarthritis that made it painful to sit for long periods of time.

Both events led her to want answers. And she thought doctors might find those answers by studying her body through the OHSU Body Donation Program. Frances died on Dec. 12, 2016, at the age of 84 and became one of the approximately 120 donors the program accepts each year.

2016 Body donation memorial
Marie Duryee of Canby shares stories about her sister-in-law, who donated her body to OHSU, as Duryee speaks at the Donor Memorial Service, December 1, 2017. Each year up to 120 people donate their bodies to OHSU to support medical education. A Donor Memorial Service was held December 1, 2017, to reflect and thank the donors and their families. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

“As long as I knew her, she always talked about donating her body to science,” said Frances’ sister-in-law, Marie Duryee, of Canby, Oregon. “[Frances] just wanted to know why.”

Each selfless donor becomes the respected “first patient” of about 300 medical, dental, physician assistant and radiation therapy students enrolled in anatomy courses at OHSU. The continuing education and research of another 200 residents and faculty also benefit from those donations.

Such gifts are deeply appreciated by students and staff. So much so that first-year students organize an annual Service of Gratitude to honor donors and their families. Tissues wiped away the loving and grateful tears of families, students and staff alike at the 2017 ceremony, which took place Dec. 1 at the OHSU Auditorium in Portland.

Sasha Narayan, a member of the OHSU School of Medicine’s Class of 2020, addressed her donor as she spoke at the service.

“You have shown me the intensely meaningful side of medicine … and that life does not stop with death,” Narayan said.

2016 Body donation memorial
Sasha Narayan, M.D. Class of 2020, shares how her professional career has been impacted through the gift of body donation, speaking at the Donor Memorial Service, December 1, 2017. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Body Donation Program co-director Tamara Ostervoss described how each donor creates a significant medical legacy.

“[Donors] all unite in death as extraordinary teachers,” Ostervoss said. “Our learners will practice their profession across Oregon, the United States, and, in some cases, the world, and will share their acquired knowledge with each and every patient they serve for the rest of their career.”

Before the ceremony, Marie’s daughter, Amy Oakley, also of Canby, Oregon, shared a black-and-white picture of her aunt Frances as a young, smiling scientist in a lab, surrounded by glass beakers and other equipment.

Oakley and her mother agreed that OHSU’s Service of Gratitude was a far better way to honor Frances’ life than a funeral.


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