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WesternU COMP-Northwest medical students honor donor patients at annual memorial service

by Michelle Steinhebel

December 11, 2017

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Western University of Health Sciences honored donor patients December 8 with a memorial service for the medical students’ first patients. As the first name and occupation of each donor was read aloud, students lit a candle in the donor’s honor.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of your loved ones over the last few months,” Matthew Zeller, student body president for the WesternU COMP-Northwest Class of 2021, told a packed lecture hall of family members of donor patients. Zeller explained that the students refer to the donors as their “first patients.”

“This gift has not merely impacted those of us who worked with our first patients, but this gift will impact all of our future patients,” Zeller said. “Some may believe that the end of life is the end of someone’s impact on others, but this is not true with your loved ones.”

WesternU COMP-Northwest fourth-year medical student Robert Elder spoke about how his first patient has affected his time on medical rotations. “Previously, Ray had been a local electrician, but he decided he wanted to be a teacher for medical students after he died, and that’s how I wound up meeting him,” Elder said. He explained that Ray provided him with many lessons, including how to suture, how to become comfortable with surgical instruments, and how to practice life-saving techniques. Without Ray, he would have only learned such things from a book.

“If I could say one thing to Ray and all of the donor patients and families, it would be thank you. He had a great impact on me, but also my patients,” Elder said. “As a teacher, Ray will be one of the most memorable and influential, and I will always remember him.”

Wes Sedlacek, chaplain for Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, offered words of consolation. “While our place in human history may be small, one final act of generosity can be quite big,” Sedlacek said.

Many families provided photos of their loved ones, which were shown in a slideshow during the memorial. Tissues were passed around as loved ones shed silent tears as their family members were put on screen. More than 140 donor patients were honored at the ceremony, with about 80 family members representing the patients attended.

“Taps” was played by Omar Rachdi, first-year medical student. Three students representing the COMP-Northwest Military Medical Student Association completed a military flag presentation.

After the ceremony, families of the donors talked about their loved ones, giving the medical students insight into their first patients.

More information about the WesternU COMP-Northwest Willed Body Program may be found at, or by calling (541) 259-0200.

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