Dexter Mattox’s first patient in dental school was a 94-year-old retired nurse.
They spent almost one year together, but Mattox never knew her name, her personality and never heard her voice.
Even so, this woman taught Mattox more than any textbook or diagram ever could.
By giving her body to medicine after her death, she allowed Mattox and his classmates to literally explore the makeup of her brain, see veins and arteries up close and touch the muscles in her face.
On Friday, Mattox, a second-year student in Georgia Regents University’s College of Dental Medicine, was finally able to say thank you.
GRU medical students and faculty held a memorial service to honor 170 donors who gave their bodies to science so students could better understand human anatomy.
They hosted the donors’ families, who packed the Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium and held a service that had the feel of a funeral with a message.
In front of floral wreaths in white ribbon, students read statements about how working with the bodies impacted their learning and lives. They sang tribute songs with guitars strumming on stage.
“While we’ll never know the characteristics or personalities of the donors, we do know their generosity,” said Chris Woods, a student in the College of Allied Health Sciences Physician Assistant Program. “The gift these donors have given us not only directly affects my classmates and I but the tens of thousands of patients we’ll see over the course of our careers.”
Sylvia Smith, professor and chair in the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy, which oversees the anatomical donations program, assured families their loved ones were treated with dignity and respect.
She said she understands the sacrifice and worry families of donors go through. After her niece, Jessica, was killed in 2003 in a car crash at the age of 20, Smith’s family saw Jessica’s commitment as an organ donor materialize.
“Her heart, lungs, liver and kidneys were given to needy transplant patients,” Smith said. “Jessica’s corneas had been transplanted and the recipient was eternally grateful for the gift of sight. Thus, in the most enduring way, my niece lives on and your family members live on as well.”
Edi Jorgaqi traveled from New York with his wife, Artemisa, just to attend the service in memory of his cousin, Thomas Mangelly.
Mangelly was a World War II veteran, who raised his family in Augusta. When he died in 2011 at age 94, Mangelly had arranged to donate his body to the medical school.
His daughter in law, Greta Mangelly, said the ceremony was a way to honor someone they loved so much.
“It’s been almost two years, but it’s still hard,” Greta Mangelly said. “This was just one more way to say goodbye.”