Burial of ashes ceremony honors body donors

Bagpiper Robert Chalk plays Amazing Grace.

As the distinctive sounds of bagpipes playing Amazing Grace wafted over the grounds, UT Health San Antonio offered a final salute to those who in death served the living.

The university’s annual ceremony to inter the cremated remains of human donors used in the education of students, held May 1, attracted a large crowd of family members of the donors, students, faculty and staff to Memorial Park on the Greehey campus.

Omid Rahimi, Ph.D., director of the Human Anatomy Program, welcomed the attendees and expressed gratitude to the families of donors. He said the ceremony “is dedicated to those who, even in death, continued to serve the living.”

Students representing all the classes that studied anatomy in the past year gave short speeches about the anatomy lessons and life lessons they have learned from their first patients, the deceased human donors who altruistically gave their bodies to science.

A family member of a body donor pauses at the communal gravesite.

First-year medical student Tristan Fielder said he felt a connection to the body donors in ways that he never expected.

“Our donors not only taught me the structure of the human body, but they also challenged my ideas about what it means for us to occupy a human body—what it means to be a patient, what it means to be vulnerable, what it means to be human,” Fielder said. “In certain moments, our donors seemed to serve as a conduit to the human soul.”

Cell systems and anatomy graduate student Ivan P. Rubalcava said the body donors “not only enhanced our educational experience, but they highlighted our ultimate purpose as health care providers—to offer our physical bodies to those in need. In this way, not only do we as students benefit from their gift, but so do the lives of our future patients whom we treat.”

Vocal students from UTSA performed, and an honor guard from Fort Sam Houston presented a U.S. flag in memory of body donors who served in the military. Buglers played Taps before attendees silently filed past the cremated remains, placing flowers and handsfull of dirt on the grave.

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