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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 14, 2002

Loved ones gave, even after death

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Martha Aquiar wept quietly, wiping tears from her cheeks and chin with a crumpled blue tissue, listening to a young medical student talk about her auntie, and what an incredible gift she had given.

Family members and friends yesterday paid their respects to loved ones who had donated their bodies to the John A. Burns Medical School for educational use. After the cadavers are used for two years, the remains are cremated.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Around her in the air-conditioned John A. Burns Medical School auditorium where more than 100 families had gathered, others dabbed at their eyes, too, as University of Hawai'i medical students spoke gratefully of generosity beyond compare.

"They'll never really know how much they've taught us," said fourth-year student Janette Javier, 28, who leaves this summer for a residency in family practice in Colorado. "But in some small way we can let their families know.

"This is not an easy decision — to give your body to the medical school. But in supporting your loved ones in this decision, you also supported us and contributed to our education and our growth as doctors."

This is the first time in two years that the medical students have come together to thank so many families for such acts of kindness, and to honor their family members for the gifts of themselves.

Outside the auditorium, faded photographs, pictures of happy days from family photo albums and drawings by grandchildren adorned a bulletin board.

There was Hazel Forshee as a little girl in a white lace dress, a locket around her neck.

Dr. Judy Vincent, left, and her mother, Marie Makowski, yesterday learned how the body of Henry S. Makowski, Vincent's father, helped UH medical students.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Henry S. Makowski, who built airplanes and was a Marine in World War II.

"He could fix anything, and the house knew," said his daughter, Dr. Judy Vincent, a pediatrician at Tripler Army Medical Center. "When he died, things started breaking."

Randell Tsuhako Jr., who spent much of his life in prison, but had willed his body to the students "so something good would come out of his life," said his daughter, Sitka Souza.

On a long table across the front of the auditorium, 45 boxes of ashes were adorned with white plumeria blossoms and lei of wound maile leaves. Each donated body is used for up to two years, and then cremated. The ashes were scattered off Waikiki yesterday afternoon by the medical students and volunteers from Koa Kai Outrigger Canoe Club. Cremated remains are returned to those families who wish a private inurnment.

As the ceremony continued, Carla Chotzen sat in the front row and listened intently as second year medical student Nu Lu read a poem by Claire Small, another of the anatomical gift donors:

    "... From these old bones,
    "These ligaments,
    "My sinews and my nerves,
    "May that life force
    "That ran in me
    "Shine forth once more
    "And pass to you
    "The knowledge and the power
    "That help sustain
    "The miracle of life."

In the two weeks before his death in 1998, Chotzen's husband, Walter, met with several young medical students who would accept his body for their program. It was an unusual meeting, but gave the family great comfort, said his wife, knowing he would contribute in an amazing way to the education of future physicians.

For information

To reach the Willed Body Program at the University of Hawai'i John A. Burns School of Medicine, call 956-5467.

"He always wanted to give to other people in his life," said a daughter, Annabel Chotzen-Hartzell. "And this was his final way to give."

The "Willed Body Program" has grown dramatically after an appeal by the medical school four years ago when anatomy classes were being offered by lottery because of a shortage of cadavers for dissection.

But while membership in the program has increased, there is still a constant need each year, according to Professor Scott Lozanoff, chairman of the Anatomy Department in the medical school. "There is no better way for a student to learn anatomy than from actually dealing with dissecting a human body."

Outside afterwards, as students mingled with family members, Jackie Hernandez did not cry for her mother, Katherine Melim, but rejoiced at the choice she had made.

"A lot of people are doctors because of her," said Hernandez. "She felt if she could help make a doctor out of someone, she would happily give her body."

Reach Bev Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.