Constance C. Reitmulder consistently put others before herself. That’s how Linda Wyno remembers her stepmother – as wholly selfless.
“She married my Dad, she took on me and my sister, she took us in and raised us like we were her own,” Wyno said. “She was very generous.”
Reitmulder donated her body to the University at Buffalo’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Thursday, in Skinnersville Cemetery, near UB’s North Campus, Wyno and her sister, Yvonne Oliver, attended a UB memorial service to honor those who donated their bodies to science.
As medical students and educators expressed their gratitude to the more than 500 family and friends who attended the event, Wyno and Oliver remembered their mother, who died two years ago. Their eyes filled with tears. Her selflessness was still present.
It was an emotional day for the medical students and teachers, too.
When Nikki Dodge began medical school at UB two years ago, she said she thought doctors were supposed to be emotionless. That changed last year, when her anatomy class started its lesson on the human hand. She walked into class and noticed her donor’s fingernails were painted.
“It wasn’t just any nail polish either, but it was bright metallic silver,” said Dodge, who stood in front of the crowd and began to cry. “Right then, all the emotions I had been suppressing at the beginning of the semester hit me. I immediately saw all of these scenarios: I imagined a little girl, maybe a granddaughter, choosing the coolest, prettiest color she could find and painting her grandma’s nails. ... And while my mind had always understood what an incredible gift your loved ones made, in that moment my heart did as well,” she said.
The hundreds of attendees, young and old, wiped their tears during Dodge’s speech, remembering loved ones who donated their bodies for various reasons. Some were cancer patients determined to help find a cure. Others wanted to make the grieving process easier for their families by making their deaths charitable.
Darcel McBride’s mother, Carolyn Chambers, died two years ago and had decided to donate her body to UB’s Anatomical Gift Program almost 10 years before her death. The day Chambers died, McBride signed up for the program.
“She came to me, and she says, ‘I want to donate my body to science so it’ll be less stress, less grief for the family. All you guys won’t have to worry. The insurance money, you can use to help financially others in the family ... and I’m giving back something to the students,’ ” McBride recalled. “I decided that was exactly what I wanted.”
The number of people opting to donate their bodies to medical science is increasing, according to Anatomical Gift Program director Raymond Dannenhoffer. About 500 people from Western New York donated their bodies to the program each of the past two years.
Under the program, medical students learn anatomy and practice procedures; and practicing physicians develop techniques and try new materials.
“He said he hopes that some day by donating his body that they would be able to come up with something,” Wyno said. “And actually, a few years later, they come up with the blood test to find out if you had prostate cancer.”
UB is one of a few programs in the country that accepts all types of bodies, according to Dannenhoffer. The Anatomical Gift Program, the largest in New York State, does not ask people who enroll about their health or reject those with physical defects.
When Dannenhoffer teaches anatomy, he begins every semester with the same statement: “You have to remember,” he tells the students, “the last thing these people did with their lives is help us. The last thing they did is say, ‘I want to help people. I want to help people other than myself.’ ”