Like many, Susan Potter wanted to donate her body to science. But her donation was unlike any other. After her death in 2015 at age 87, Potter’s body was placed in polyvinyl blocks and frozen. Then she was cut into 27,000 slices.
It wasn’t a desecration. It was a step toward immortality. Potter will eventually be the world’s most detailed virtual cadaver.
Her story was tracked for 16 years by National Geographic. “Susan Potter Will Live Forever” is the centerpiece of its January issue on the future of medicine. You can read about her in print, go online to see an in-depth, interactive version of the feature or watch a documentary about her journey from death to virtual life.
Writer Cathy Newman and photographer Lynn Johnson tracked Potter and Vic Spitzer, director of the University of Colorado’s Center for Human Simulation, over the course of nearly two decades. It was the longest lead-time story in the magazine’s history.
And what a story.
Potter and Spitzer collaborated in life to make sure Potter’s gift in death would be as meaningful as possible. Most cadavers are anonymous by design, but Potter provided extensive interviews and an in-depth view of her medical history and personal life along with her body.
The result will be a multifaceted training tool for future doctors and current medical professionals — the most high-resolution medical imagery in existence.
Potter’s body is still being stitched into a virtual cadaver. The story of her life is given as much weight as her death. Newman’s report and Johnson’s images immortalize Potter’s feisty, prickly personality and her body’s surreal journey from flesh and bone to something much bigger than a single person.