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.
“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.
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.