'Selfless' acts: Thousands of Toledoans donate bodies for education

·5 min read

Jul. 29—When Thomas Miller's grandson was born prematurely in 2009, doctors told the family if it hadn't been for the parents of a deceased baby donating the body to science they wouldn't have had the experience needed for the life-saving procedure.

It led the Elmore resident to donate his own body to the University of Toledo's Anatomical Donation program after his death, in hopes he could pay it forward by saving someone else. His wish was granted March 27, 2015. He was 96.

That decision had a domino effect.

It inspired longtime family friend Sara Myles, 69, to donate herself, following her death from a pulmonary embolism on Sept. 25, 2020, since organ donation wasn't feasible after battling two types of cancer.

Ms. Myles' sister has since agreed to do the same, when the time comes, and Ms. Myles' son, Clark Myles, also is exploring the option.

"Mom always put other people before herself," he said. "Mom had a similar attitude that I have: I don't need it [my body] anymore, why shouldn't someone else be able to benefit?"

"She definitely wasn't concerned about, when I die, what happens to my physical body?" Mr. Myles said.

Anatomical donation is fairly common in Toledo and the surrounding area.

Since the program was founded in 1969, more than 10,000 northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan residents have signed up to allow their bodies to be used after their death to help train University of Toledo medical, pathology, and biology students, program manager Diane Durliat said.

"People think, well I'm going to pass away and then what? But in this sense they continue living because they're here and they're teaching," Ms. Durliat said. "Students come in and they have an opportunity to learn from an actual human being instead of a book."

In the classroom, bodies are used to show the human anatomy, how organs, muscles, and tissues function, or how different diseases affect the body. Sometimes they allow established surgeons to test new procedures, or resident students to practice their skills.

That hands-on experience is invaluable to preparing students for the real world and offering practicing physicians continued education, Dr. Bill Frank, an assistant professor in the department of medical education, said. The department is part of UT's Health Science campus, the former Medical College of Ohio.

This week, his medical students were studying the cardiovascular system and learning how to correct valve deformities by actually exploring the human heart.

Donors are the students' first patients, he said.

"Through the studying of the donor, they're able to look at all of the normalities but also abnormalities of the body," Dr. Frank said. "As a physician, that's something they need to have an appreciation for. We find all sorts of anomalies that [the person] lived with that is not quite the way it should have been, but yet it still works."

Most donors are middle-aged or older when they enter the program, Ms. Durliat said, but anyone over the age of 18 and of a sound mind can commit themselves. Donors also cannot weigh more than 250 pounds or have a communicable disease, according to rules outlined on the university's website.

Funeral services or organ donation are permitted before a person's body is turned over to the program.

To apply, persons must fill out a series of legal forms and pay a nonrefundable $100 fee, which provides for partial recovery of administrative and cremation services. The program takes care of all legal forms after death, and has donors cremated and either returned to families or buried in the university's plot at the Historic Woodlawn Cemetery upon completion.

The program reserves the right to keep a donor's body for up to three years, though they're typically only held for two years, Ms. Durlait said.

More details about the program can be found on the university's website, or by calling Ms. Durliat at (419) 383-4109.

The university defines donation as "an act of selfless concern for the advancement of medicine and science."

That description fits the life and legacy of one of the latest donors, Fred Durfey. The 83-year-old Lambertville resident died on June 12, after a sudden illness.

"He was an honest, kind, loyal, loving man and those of you who knew Fred, knew this about him and much more," his obituary said.

Mr. Myles said the same could be said of his mother.

She raised two children as a single mother after losing husbands in quick succession to a heart attack and military combat, and fought two types of cancer — Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and breast cancer — yet continuously gave of herself to her community.

She served as Henry County recorder from 2003 until she retired in 2017. She also was the founding member of the Friends of the Library/Liberty Center, a certified lay minister and organist for her church, and a perpetual volunteer.

Her final act of kindness was giving her body so that others may learn from it, her son said. The family received her ashes from the program last week.

"It's not for everybody," Mr. Myles said. "I would just say, though, that once you're done with your body here it doesn't really matter what happens after that. If you can go and help somebody else, there's no reason not to."