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Real-life lessons only a cadaver can reveal

August 18, 2012
By Jill Gosche - Staff Writer ( , The Advertiser-Tribune

A Heidelberg University graduate remembers the first time she saw cadavers in the school's laboratory.

Corin Cieska, a Perry native who studied biology and chemistry and graduated from Heidelberg in 2010 and University of Toledo in May, said it was early in her junior-year anatomy class. The cadavers were covered when students walked into the room.

Slowly, she said, Pamela Faber, chairwoman of the biology and environmental sciences department and professor of biology, pulled away the sheet.

Article Photos

A skull is located in a science laboratory at Heidelberg University.

An arm was first, and then a leg.

Cieska said she never had seen a dead body before. She recalled being shocked and grateful that she got to use them for study purposes.

"They're always covered," she said.

Cieska said cadavers are an awesome part of Heidelberg. Someone telling a person that a heart should be the size of a fist and the person being able to hold a heart are totally different experiences, she said.

She said when she was working on a master's degree, the class talked about stents. She said she knew how the process worked because she had seen one. She said when students went into a clinical setting, she knew what was going on more than students who hadn't seen a cadaver before.

Cieska recalled Heidelberg students removing tissue so they could see muscles and removing a skull after a lot of practice.

It was an experience most undergraduate students never have, she said.

"I am just so grateful and privileged that Heidelberg gave me that opportunity," she said.

Faber said Heidelberg has a relationship with Ohio State University. Through its donor program, Heidelberg pays a fee to borrow a specimen.

"(OSU is) on the lookout for what we need. ... (The age) doesn't matter to us," she said.

Heidelberg has been home to about a dozen cadavers since it started obtaining them in 1988. Recent cadavers have included an 89-year-old woman who had end-stage cardiac disease and diabetes, and a 55-year-old man who had pancreatic cancer.

Faber said she can't imaging teaching anatomy any other way, and it would be less of an educational experience to teach it another way. Without cadavers, students would be learning using cats, she said.

"It was cats before we had cadavers. ... They're very similar," she said.

Heidelberg receives a little information about the cadavers. They do not know what surgical procedures the person had undergone while living.

"It's always an interesting surprise (what's inside)," Faber said.

Officials also don't know the person's name and do not assign him or her a name. She said she tells students to remember the body is someone's family member.

"We don't allow photographs, even for study purposes," she said.

Faber said advanced senior-level students perform the dissections.

"They do a great job, considering their level of education," she said.

Faber said she takes a slow approach to introduce cadavers to students. People take the bodies out and unzip part of the body bag.

"No students have ever passed out," she said.

Students seeing the bodies for the first time mostly experience fascination, Faber said.

"Mostly, they're really curious," she said.

The first year, students work on the front surface of the cadaver, including removing the skin and separating muscles. They remove the rib cage so they can get into the chest and abdominal cavities. It allows them to see the heart, vessels, lungs, digestive system and reproductive structures, she said.

The second year, they finish the front side and work on the skin and muscles on the back.

"We take the brains out," she said.

Drew Figley, an Ashland native who studied biology and chemistry and graduated from Heidelberg in 2011, is working toward a doctorate in dental surgery at Ohio State. He said Faber knew he wanted to be a dentist and challenged him to dissect a cadaver's face.

The face is intricate and has a lot of muscles, and everything in it is thin and small. The work takes a lot of hand skills, he said.

Figley said it was a great experience for him and helped him a lot when he got to Columbus. He said he is one of a few students in his dental class who came out of an undergraduate program with experience dissecting a cadaver.

Gabrielle Mintz, a senior from New Riegel studying biology and chemistry, also has worked with a cadaver. She said when she first worked with one, she thought it would be scary and disturbing, but it's fascinating to see how intricate and complex the human body is.

"I don't really consider it to be scary or anything," she said.

Mintz is planning an appreciation ceremony to honor the selfless act of donating a body to science.

"It's something that the biology department has wanted to do for a long time, put together a ceremony. ... It will be on campus," she said.

Mintz said a large portion of the program will be students who have come into contact with the cadavers. Donors' families could attend and speak, she said.

"We don't directly contact the donors' families. ... We would extend that invitation through Ohio State University, where we get our cadavers from," she said.

Mintz said thankfulness is one of her main feelings about Heidelberg's cadaver program.

"The human body is so complex. ... They don't have to (donate)," she said.



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