They see dead people, and come away with health-care lessons

By Sarah Perry
Sunday, November 21, 2010

DALLAS - During her first year at medical school, Kacy Dotterer's life was changed because of what she saw in dead people.

Dotterer, a student in the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, repeatedly found herself studying the bodies of overweight people in her anatomy lessons. She expected to find fat. Just not so much.

"It was infested everywhere," Dotterer says. Layer after layer, clinging to every organ of the body.

Everyone had told her she'd gain weight in school because there would be no time to exercise. But after what she saw, she began counting calories and avoided fast-food restaurants on her way to class. By the end of her first year, she'd lost 15 pounds.

Dotterer, now a third-year student, respects the donors for helping her learn and make healthier decisions with her life. "It's a really admirable thing they do," she says.

She's not the only one who has learned important health lessons from cadavers. Students, professors and professionals who work with dead bodies have made changes in their lives based on what they've seen postmortem.

The lessons are not necessarily for the squeamish. But these doctors and doctors-to-be think you could learn from the dead, too.

Eat healthfully

Larry Petterborg likes to remind his students that the fat they eat at lunchtime will drip into their bloodstream.

Petterborg has worked with cadavers for about 30 years. He teaches anatomy for Texas Woman's University's physical therapy program. In the dissection room, he holds up a heart he's just removed from a woman's body and squeezes the arteries.

"This is calcified plaque," he says. "Feel right here. You hear that?"

It sounds like popcorn in a microwave. "That's what causes heart attacks," Petterborg says.

This woman probably didn't eat too healthilfully.

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