Donor memorial helps bring home realities of life for medical students

Four siblings in the Raymond family sat together to remember their sister, Dianne Petrovich, who died last August after offering to donate her body to science at COMP-Northwest. 

They recalled her as a giving person.

“I can see why she did it, because she can help somebody,” said Tami Wheeler, Petrovich’s sister.

They were among other families who attended the medical school’s annual memorial service, for 120 donor patients, Dec. 7 at the college.

The crowd also included the first-year students of COMP-Northwest’s Class of 2022.

People who donate their bodies to the school are considered the students’ first patients as they begin their first year learning anatomy, said Kelly Mack, coordinator for the Willed Body Program. It’s a gift that keeps giving, she said.

“It takes a special kind of person to donate their body,” Mack said. “(Students) learn from that very first patient, and then whatever they learn from that first patient, they continue throughout their careers as a medical professional.”

Wheeler said she believes it’s important to “give the gift” because students learn so much from it, and now she’s considering donating her body, as well.

“What these families and patients did is they essentially enabled us to have a window into the education and learning of the body from a different perspective that we wouldn’t be able to get without them,” said Class President Mario Gaddini. 

Though the memorial service is held during finals week, most of the students take the time to show up because they value the sacrifice the patients and families gave, he noted.

“The school does a good job of making it clear from the get-go that our donor patients are our first patients,” said Ebba Haines, a first-year student.

Haines got teary-eyed while watching a slideshow of the donor patients during the service, she said. Family members submitted photos for the memorial, which helped her see how the patients wanted to be known during their life.

“Even though you’re thinking of them as your patient, you don’t know their story and their life and all that,” Haines said. “That’s really special.”

Ann Clarke of Corvallis attended the memorial for her husband, Frank R. Clarke, who died in March. She recalled him as a person who enjoyed science and new technologies, and was particularly interested in audiology and the concept of voice prints.

Her favorite memories include several trips the two took together, she said.

“He liked taking pictures quite a bit. He would fuss about doing them different ways with Photoshop,” she added.

The college typically receives donor patients from the local and surrounding area, and, after a period of time, they are cremated and returned to the family, Mack said. The memorial service is held once a year  for the families.

“Sometimes it’s their only closure because maybe they didn’t do anything separately,” Mack said.

Those interested in donating their body to the college’s Willed Body Program may call (541) 259-0256.