Making the ultimate gift to medicine

May 18, 2015


With gentle care, Billie Stambulic opened the photo album and set it before first-year medical student Mary Rosegrant.

On the pages were scenes from her daughter Patricia Williams’ 59 years of life— as a toddler with her brother and five sisters, a high school graduate in cap and gown, a proud mother after the birth of her daughter, Leslie, and, finally, a patient sick from the cervical cancer that took her life in November.

“She was so pretty,” Rosegrant said.

Billie Stambulic smiled. “Yes, she was.”

Rosegrant’s interest in Patricia Williams went beyond compassionate curiosity. Before she died, Williams gifted her body to the UNT Health Science Center’s Willed Body Program so students could study and learn from her in the anatomy lab. UNTHSC receives more than 100 anatomical donations a year.

LEGACY-OF-LIFE-WEB-2Rosegrant  and Stambulic were among the students and family members of donors brought together at the Legacy of Life Ceremony on April 24. It was a chance for students to meet the families and honor their loved ones for making what is, in a sense, the ultimate gift to medicine.

“The opportunity to learn anatomy by studying a real human is an irreplaceable experience,” said Claire A. Kirchhoff, PhD, the program’s Faculty Advocate. “Students learn things from donors that they could not learn from books or computer programs alone.”

After Williams’ death, Billie Stambulic briefly got “cold feet” about Williams’ participation in the program, but the students’ sincerity reassured her.

“These kids studying to be doctors have an incredible level of respect and reverence for the people who participate and help them learn,” Stambulic said. “I am so glad Patricia did this.”

For some families, the ceremony offered closure. One woman whose father donated his body cried as she showed students his old workshop tools. Students cried with her.

Leslie Williams, Patricia Williams’ daughter and a senior at Texas Tech University, drove from Lubbock to attend the ceremony. She said her mother would have told the students who studied her to do amazing things in their medical careers.

“She would want them to become doctors who could one day help me or my children,” she said.

Diana Cervantes. Assistant Professor Biostatistics & Epidemiology
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