By Wendy Sarubbi | March 19, 2012 9:54 am

With thanks for lessons about life, death and generosity, UCF College of Medicine M-1 students held a send-off ceremony February 29 for their first patients. The ceremony, a medical school tradition, ends the 17-week anatomy lab and offers students, faculty and staff members the chance to say thank you to people who willed their bodies to science.

Eighty first-year students lit electric candles in the Lewis Auditorium and spoke poignantly about their inspirational teachers, people they had never met, who educated them about the human body without ever saying a word.

Student Michelle Hidalgo described how donors had willed their bodies – their one true possession – to help others. “You have touched our lives forever,” she said. “In death you gave life. There is no greater gift. We promise to honor you in our careers and our lives.”

First-year student Preston Dean described his nervousness about Anatomy Lab and his feeling of “I’m never, ever going to get used to this.” But he said that reaction changed during long hours in the lab, where he learned the unique characteristics of the human body thanks to his donor’s gift. “We met you at the corner of tragedy and exploration,” he said.

Dr. Andrew Payer, professor of Anatomy at the College of Medicine, talked of the impact that 1,700 total donors had made on his life in the years he has taught students. “I’ve held the hands of people who wanted to donate their bodies to science,” he said. “They’ve told me their life stories. I’ve talked to their families. It was a privilege to get to know many of these people.”

Dr. Payer said donors and their families always are concerned with: “Will my donated body help medical students?” and “Will the students treat me with dignity and respect?”

“This class has given testament to that,” he told the students. “I thank you.”

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