Can I donate my body to a local medical school? – Sun Sentinel

Q: Since I was a teenager (I’m almost 68 now), I have wanted to donate my body to science because I didn’t like the idea of taking up space in a cemetery.

I had a contract with Emory University Medical School in Atlanta to come get my body as soon as I died. My family and friends knew it was my desire and, even though they thought it odd, they accepted it.

When I retired and moved here, I knew Emory wouldn’t be an option anymore.

I still want to do it and I’m hoping you know of medical schools or research labs in Fort Lauderdale and nearby cities that would want my body. I am delighted you will do the research. I am in no hurry— at least, I hope not. LOL.” — Ernie Blankenship, Oakland Park

A: Ernie, what you want to do is so important and warms my heart. How else will science advance to save more lives if we don’t make sacrifices (and occasionally make our relatives a little uncomfortable)?

The state of Florida has a very organized system for accepting bodies for its medical schools. The Anatomical Board of the State of Florida distributes them through three academic centers: the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, and the one closest to us, University of Miami.

UM dispenses cadavers to seven South Florida sites, including its own school, the Miller School of Medicine, as well as to Florida Atlantic University, Barry University, Florida International University, Nova Southeastern University, Florida Gulf Coast University, and the Coral Gables branch of the University of St. Augustine.

Freshman medical students, physical therapy students, medical residents and continuing education students learn from the corpses, according to UM’s Willed Body Program website. Not everyone is allowed to donate: Cancer patients are accepted, but some bodies are rejected for reasons including serious injury, weight of more than 250 pounds or contagious disease.

I wasn’t familiar with this program, so I was surprised to learn South Florida schools received 105 bodies last year, which “covers what we need,” according to David Hoodiman, the med school’s director of body donor services. More women than men donated their bodies, another surprise to me; the ratio was 2:1, he said.

Donors must make their own arrangements to get their remains to the university, with costs typically ranging from $800 to $3,000 for preparation and transport, said Hoodiman, who is licensed as a funeral director.

Hoodiman said his staff performs additional embalming on bodies because these have to last as long as two years, depending on when the person dies in relation to the academic calendar. Everyone with access to the cadaver lab is required to sign a “pledge of respect,” vowing not to eat near the body, make jokes or take pictures, he said.

Cadavers are cremated after use. Remains may be moved to the site of your choice, or the Anatomical Board will spread the ashes over the Atlantic Ocean.

If medical student education doesn’t appeal to you, other options include donating your organs through the National Donate Life Registry (donatelife.net) or offering your cornea or other eye tissue through the Florida Lions Eye Bank (fleb.org).

There’s also the Florida Brain Bank for those who have had age-related dementia for at least a year (adrccares.org/brainbank).

If you have more questions about UM’s body donation program, Hoodiman said to feel free to contact him. Call 305-243-6691 or email dhoodiman@miami.edu.

Got questions about life in South Florida? Email Lois at AskLois@sunsentinel.com.

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