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Featured News Donors find a ‘second life’ at JCU

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Thu, 4 Jul 2024

Donors find a ‘second life’ at JCU

JCU Human Bequest Coordinator Rod Cook with JCU School of Anatomy custodian Professor Kate Domett stand next to the plaque commemorating donors
JCU Human Bequest Coordinator Rod Cook with JCU School of Anatomy custodian Professor Kate Domett at the plaque commemorating donors at Woongarra Crematorium just south of Townsville.

More than 360 northern Queenslanders who have passed away have given students at James Cook Ƶ the ultimate gift, donating their bodies to help train the next generation of health practitioners.

Since the launch of JCU’s Human Bequest Program in 2005, residents within a 400km radius of Townsville have been able to donate their body for research, teaching and training purposes once they pass away.

JCU School of Anatomy custodian Professor Kate Domett said students studying medicine, dentistry, biomedicine, physiotherapy and occupational therapy in both Townsville and Cairns all benefitted from the program.

“Students are often in awe of the gift that donors have made for their education and year after year student feedback tells us how much they value their time learning in the Anatomy Lab,” she said.

“From an academic point of view, students gain a detailed knowledge of the structure and function of the human body which underpins the work of all health professionals. Our donors provide a huge advantage over plastic casts and online materials. Those have their place, but they don’t show that human variation in biology.

“Students also learn respect for the human body that they can’t get from a textbook. They learn to approach the human body ethically and treat the donor in a very respectful way.”

Donors are also used by hospital surgeons to practice complex surgeries prior to operating.

The program, which has been running for 19 years, accepts an average of between 25 and 30 donors per year - with those wanting to donate undergoing a strict vetting process.

The first step involves a discussion on the phone with the JCU anatomy technical team, who then send the prospective donor an information pack.

“We advise potential donors to talk about it with their family. They have to be on-board, it is a family decision,” Prof Domett said.

“We also advise that sometimes it is not possible for us to accept a body after they pass away. There’s a lot of reasons why we might not accept them, so the family do need to have a Plan B in that scenario.”

Once a donor has been accepted into the program, the Human Bequest Coordinator will call the family and then make the appropriate arrangements.

“The next time the family will hear from us will be when we do the cremation, which can be as little as a few months if they go into the surgical training workshops or it can be years,” Prof Domett said.

Human Bequest Coordinator Rod Cook praised the selflessness of donors to the program.

“Giving your body to science is such a treasured and wonderful gift, which helps future generations of healthcare professionals and strengthens rural and remote healthcare,” he said.

The program team recently unveiled a plaque commemorating donors at Woongarra Crematorium in Julago, just south of Townsville.

“We wanted a visible place where families and friends could visit and know that this was their final resting place,” Prof Domett said.

“Staff and students can also visit to pay their respects. This is JCU’s way of honouring them.”

A thanksgiving service is hosted by JCU every three years, with families of donors over that three year period invited to participate.

“It’s quite an amazing service for us; an opportunity to say thank you,” Prof Domett said.

“Students are able to tell the families how much their family member’s donation has helped them in their studies. Staff acknowledge how such donations improve the student experience and their success.

“The service is followed by a morning tea and the staff and students get a chance to talk individually with the families, which is a pretty special opportunity.”

Those interested in becoming a donor with the Human Bequest Program can contact 4781 5022, email humanbequest.coordinator@jcu.edu.au or search online “JCU Human Bequest Program” and follow the links.

Contacts

Media enquiries: michael.serenc@jcu.edu.au