Body donors are the ultimate teachers

Paul Thielking was an optometrist and Wendell Mohr was a watercolor artist, but both have taught critical lessons to DMU’s clinical students. The two men are among the hundreds of individuals over the years who have contributed their bodies to the University.

“These donors are our students’ ultimate teachers,” says Donald Matz, Ph.D., anatomy chair. “Students want to see and explore the human body; the only one who can show them is the donor. That’s the power of the donor.”

The University honors these individuals and their families with an annual memorial service, to be held this year on May 18 in the MEC, on the first floor of the DMU Clinic, beginning at 1 p.m. When Julie Powell-Mohr, Wendell’s wife, attended the service in 2010, she had “no idea” what to expect.

“When Wendell and I decided to donate his body, it was a practical and pragmatic decision,” she says. He died of prostate cancer in 2008. “But the service instantly transformed the whole experience. It went from a head thing to a heart thing.”

As loved ones gather for the service, photos they’ve submitted of their donors are shown on a large video screen. The DMU Choir and String Orchestra perform. Most moving to some, however, are the comments by student leaders.

“You shared the gift of your son, your daughter, your grandmother, your grandfather, your brother, your sister, your father, your mother, so we, as the Des Moines University family of future health care professionals, could learn from the many intricacies of the human body to better serve our patients in the coming years,” Abby Munson, D.P.T.’12, said at the 2010 service. “These heroic individuals were silent teachers that guided our every discovery.”

Dante Samuel, D.O.’13, who also spoke at that service, described the donors as “very generous and selfless” individuals who give students “a meaningful, real-life learning experience that could never be obtained from a textbook.”

“After spending weeks with the donors, many of my classmates found it hard to say goodbye when anatomy is over,” Samuel added. “That is why this service is so important to us. It’s humbling to know that the donors have found a way to give life, in their time of passing, to so many different people.”

Seeing and listening to the students at the service gave Powell- Mohr great comfort and peace. “Most of the DMU students were there – seated behind us in their white jackets, surrounding us like angels,” she wrote in a letter to The Des Moines Register. “I felt as though I were sitting in the lap of God.”

Paul Thielking’s daughter-in-law, Pat Thielking, who attended the service last year with her family, says there “couldn’t have been a better farewell from this earth.” Both she and Powell-Mohr praise Clayton Carlson, DMU’s anatomical coordinator, who works with prospective donors and their loved ones. “He is so understanding and very empathetic,” Thielking says.

Adds Powell-Mohr: “I can’t imagine a more difficult conversation to have with a family, but Clay came to our house to talk with Wendell and me and answer our questions. With him, it’s not about a business or a job. He has a healing presence.”

Consider making the ultimate gift: Learn more about DMU’s body donor program by visiting or calling 515-271-1481. The body donor memorial service on May 18 is free and open to the public.

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