Annual tribute to `unselfish' deeds

Board honors those who donated bodies to science

June 21, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A miniature teddy bear nestled among elaborate floral displays and handmade garden bouquets adorning a granite monument at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville yesterday.

The tributes and the stone dedicated to "those who gave unselfishly of themselves to advance medical education and research" served as the backdrop for the annual State Anatomy Board memorial service.

Among the nearly 800 donors whose bodies were given to science last year were an athlete, a prisoner, a grandmother and an infant who lived less than a day. All of them helped medical students, surgeons and paramedics reach a better understanding of human anatomy.

"These donations say that you have taken the time to think ahead and to think how you might help others," said Dr. Mark Teaford, chairman of the anatomy board. "In one simple gesture, these donors have taught us in immeasurable ways about themselves and about humanity."

The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda presented the colors at the outset of the service, which has been performed for 31 years. Music ranged from elegant classics to familiar hymns before ending with a poignant rendition of taps.

"I am glad to participate in a service to people, who, even in death, served others," said Marine Capt. Tim Gerlach, who sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" solo and unaccompanied.

Protestant, Catholic and Muslim clerics offered prayers. Two military officers performed a precision flag ceremony, unfurling Old Glory above the monument and then solemnly refolding it.

The children and grandchildren of Alverta DeShields, who died nearly two years ago, filled the front row.

"This was a charitable action on her part, her way of returning something," said James DeShields of his mother.

The donation inspired the entire family, said his sister, Dorothea Bennett.

"We are all donors, too," she said. "Science can do so many things and find ways to help others in so many ways because of these gifts."

Becky Munsell of Centreville remembered seeing a picture from the annual service in the newspaper last year, on the day her brother Austin F. "Jerry" Schmidt III died. The former Johns Hopkins All-American lacrosse player who also coached the sport at Hobart and Princeton universities, was a donor. Munsell, Schmidt's widow, Olga, and his lifelong friend Phil Sutley attended the service.

"I didn't expect so grand a service with a military color guard and so many people," Sutley said.

LaShune and Derek McEwen came with their 2-year-old son, Derek Jr., in memory of the newborn son they lost in October.

"He only lived 45 minutes, but with this donation he has helped someone else," said LaShune McEwen of Columbia. "Now we have somewhere to visit and remember him."

Gloria Trueheart drove from Capitol Heights to reflect on a friend and donor who died in prison.

"I appreciate this service," she said. "It brings closure for him."

At the end of the ceremony, Peg Feldman read a poem she had written to her late husband.

In "The Empty Chair," she wrote of nearly six decades of marriage. Then she complimented organizers of the ecumenical service for their compassion and choice of a peaceful setting in a grove of stately oak trees on the hospital grounds.

One tree had fallen recently, but the others stood in full summer greenery, towering over the gathering.

"It is wonderful to see the universe just keeps going on," Feldman said.

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