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Dying to donate.

Dot Purcell always knew she would donate her body to science. Even when young, the doctor's daughter, who grew up to become the mother of 11 would say, "there's something good in here" that might help others.

Her husband Jim Purcell didn't want to contemplate losing his fun-loving wife but when she passed away after 64 years of marriage, her wish was carried out.

Every year, thousands of people donate their bodies to science.

Protocol generally says that donors are anonymous, but at Indiana University Northwest, where Dot's body ended up, students are told donors' names, given their medical records, and are even encouraged to get to know their families.

Ernest Talarico, assistant director of medical education at IU Northwest, is the brains behind the idea.

When he was in school, students often gave the unidentified bodies crude nicknames. "I found that disrespectful because they had a life, and we should respect that as part of the gift they give to us," Talarico said.

Last October, a year after Dot's death at 86, Talarico wrote to Jim to invite him to meet with the four first-year medical students who would be working on her.

"I was not that eager to meet them," Jim said. At 90, the retired public relations executive is still grieving for his wife. Dot had been mostly healthy until she was diagnosed in 2008 with a rare type of melanoma.

"It was devastating because it came on suddenly, and she was gone."

More receptive to the idea was his ninth son, Mike.

"The more my dad and I thought about it, we were like, this is great," said Mike, 46.

First-year student Lucas Buchler had trepidation about meeting Dot's family.

"It's an emotional experience," Buchler, 23, said. Even medical students get squeamish. But they can be overcome by the donors and "their ultimate gift".

"We all prepared ourselves for an awkward interaction," Buchler said.

But he found Jim's questions welcoming. "He had a genuine interest," Bulcher said. "It was wonderful."

During the semester the students kept in touch with the Purcells, gaining an understanding of the family's grief while getting to know who Dot was.

Buchler has been in constant contact with Jim and Mike. First, to fill them in on what he was learning, now to keep them updated on research. Buchler says learning about Dot the person has helped what he has learned in the lab make more sense.

Along with melanoma, Dot had a blood condition related to leukemia, and doctors said it was the cause of death. Yet Buchler and his team learned that the melanoma that had spread to her liver was the true cause.

The students also discovered that Dot had a bone abnormality called Charcot foot. Although she did not have diabetes, the condition is common in that disease, and the knowledge he has gained will help him treat future others with the condition.

Buchler smiles when Jim says Dot "would have loved these students". Now, he is even considering donating his body too.

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 14, 2010
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