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After mom’s gift of body, ATSU-KCOM alumnus writes heartfelt letter to incoming class

July 12, 2019
Posted In: Alumni Headlines, KCOM, Missouri Campus, Uncategorized

When the mother of ATSU-KCOM alumnus Zach Brown, DO, ’03, realized what an impact anatomy lab had on her son’s decision to become a surgeon, she made a promise: upon her death, she would donate her body to the School’s anatomy program. Last year, she made good on that promise. Now, her son has a touching message for the future physicians of ATSU-KCOM.

Dear ATSU Class of 2021,

18 years ago I was standing in your shoes, preparing to unzip the bag for the first time and meet my cadaver. For many of you, this will be the first time you have seen a deceased human. You may feel trepidation, excitement, fear, or other emotions of anticipation. But I want to also suggest another feeling you should consider: gratitude.

You don’t know me. We have never met. Yet I will share a bond with your class as I haven’t experienced with any other at KCOM. One of your dissecting teams is standing in front of the body of my mother.

When my mom saw what an impact gross anatomy had on me, and how it accelerated my path to becoming a surgeon, she decided to gift her body to ATSU and enable a group of future physicians to have that same experience. On January 11 this year, she made good on her promise.

Every body in front of you was someone’s son or daughter. They may have been a wife or husband, mother or father. You will discover hints as you explore their remains as to how they passed. For those of you assigned to my mother’s body, you won’t be able to tell all of the amazing things she did with her life for her family and the world around her. But you will be able to see the scars and organs of a double lung transplant that was meant to extend her life after a long fight with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. You’ll also see the ravages inflicted on her bowel by graft versus host disease. Learn from her, and show your findings to other students for them to learn, too. By absorbing everything there is to see, you will honor the things which you could not see, the incredible life whose physical remains are entrusted to you.

Please treat all of the bodies before you with respect and care. Avoid the temptation to intellectually dehumanize the cadaver in an attempt to dissociate from the simple truth that before you lies what is left of someone who once breathed, felt, and lived just as you currently do. Instead, be grateful for their gift and embrace those similarities—it will make your education that much more meaningful, and will help you become a more compassionate doctor.

Thank you for helping my mom realize a dream, even after dying, to help others as much as she could, however she could, as long as she could. Thank you for helping to write the last chapter of her legacy. I hope you are able to meet my dad when he comes to collect her ashes next year at the conclusion of your lab, so he can thank you, too. I wish you all the best in your studies, and I hope to be there to congratulate you when you graduate in four years.


Zach Brown, DO, ’03,


5 responses to “After mom’s gift of body, ATSU-KCOM alumnus writes heartfelt letter to incoming class”

  1. Keith Byler, D.O., '85 says:

    What a wonderful letter! Gratitude, indeed. Twenty-five years after I was a freshman I wrote a poem called, “My Cadaver’s Hand.” The trope of the poem was very much in the same spirit as your letter. Thank you for it!

  2. Rhett Rainey says:

    Dr Brown,
    Thank you for your heartfelt letter to the current students at ATSU. My name is Rhett Rainey, DO and I graduated 40 years ago from Kirksville. My son Beau Rainey I had just started in the class you reference. His favorite class thus far is anatomy just as it was for me. It steered me in the direction of Orthopaedics where I use anatomy I learned at Kirksville every day. I was always thankful of the bodies that taught us so much. It was such an honor to learn from the dead and what they gave us. Your mother is apart of this legacy that should bring great joy to you. Be proud of what she has done and all she is doing for our new students. You are right in that we don’t really know that person in front of us but I’m sure she was a wonderful Mom that we should all be grateful for her gift. Thanks for your story and most of all your wonderful mother

  3. Ron Gaber says:

    Hi Zach,
    Inspiring mom from which the apple did not fall far from the family tree! Thanks for your humility, compassion and inspiration!!!

  4. Sean L Finnerty, DO says:


    My condolences on the death of your mother. I hope, as your mother wished, that her noble gift will inspire another Kirksville student.

    Sean L Finnerty, DO, KCOM ’03

  5. Lex Towns says:


    Your simple but powerful message strongly reinforces the ethic that has driven and continues to drive the Anatomy Department at KCOM. We teach best and students learn best–both anatomy and life perspectives–in the dissection lab.

    Thank you for your eloquent and persuasive tribute to your mother. And especially, thanks to your mother. What a wonderful gift to a future class of KCOM graduates.

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