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More than you think: What whole body donation means

Posted at 10:20 AM, Jul 17, 2014
and last updated 2016-09-15 10:33:45-04

More than 80,000 people are currently registered to donate their whole body to the State Anatomy Board of Maryland, with one goal: medical advancement.

That number increases steadily at a rate of about 3 percent annually.

Of the registered candidates on file, the board receives more than 2,000 donors per year.

SEE ALSO:Wait times on the rise for those in need of organs

The State Anatomy Board of Maryland administers the state’s body donation program, for which people donate their bodies for medical education, clinical training and medical research studies, said Ronn Wade, Director of the State Anatomy Board.

The Anatomy board also administers the disposition of any unclaimed decedents in the state. Wade says the state has the duty to provide a dignified disposition of its citizens.

Once a donor dies, the body is harvested for any tissues that are needed by candidates, if possible, and then classified for use, Wade explained. The donors are used to train paramedics, emergency medical technicians, physical therapists, surgeons and more.

The board works closely with organ donor programs, like Living Legacy and the Washington Regional Transplant Consortium, to ensure that viable organs are donated to the living prior to the donor being used for medical studies, Wade said.

The key difference in whole body donation and organ donor programs is that organ donation typically consists of donating the skin, eyes, heart, liver, kidney and other viable organs, to a candidate, Wade said.

After the organs are collected from the donor, the body is returned to the family.

Donors have been used for practice in major new or difficult procedures like Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez’s face transplant of Richard Lee Norris at the University of Maryland Medical Center in 2012.

Medical professionals practiced for a year and a half of practice with donors before they completed the surgery.

University of Maryland School of Medicine is strengthened by the State Anatomy Board’s Donor Program.

The whole body donation program provides education for medical professionals that cannot be understated, according to Dr. Adam Puche, Associate Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“It teaches them respect for their patient. It teaches our students that we are as different on the inside as we are on the outside,” Puche said.

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Students at the University of Maryland School of Medicine must take a series of anatomy courses while enrolled, Wade said.

“The students become attached to their donors, because they may use them for a series of procedures for anywhere from three weeks to 18 months,” Puche said.

In another instance, Dr. Colin MacKenzie, Clinical Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and former Director at the National Study Center for Trauma, is conducting a study on about 600 surgeons to test how skillful they are in vascular access procedures.

In a war zone, trauma surgeons must be able to access a blood vessel to stop a hemorrhage from a bleeding solider that may be caused by an explosive device.

MacKenzie uses donors as models to teach trauma surgeons how to save soldiers on the front lines.

Military trauma surgeons are tested on their vascular procedures every two to five years.  The testing aids medical professionals in skill retention.

“The people of Maryland deserve a lot of credit for saving lives,” Wade said.