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MedCure opens its cadaver lab to high school science students

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Portland Christian School students scope through the trachea and lung of a longtime smoker with a MedCure lab technician.

After scrubbing up, 30 high school students stepped into the MedCure lab.

In the bright green room, knees, lungs, brains, a liver and a dissected human cadaver awaited.

“Don’t worry; he won’t bite!” a lab technician said.

Science students from Portland Christian School spent Tuesday, June 4, learning about anatomy firsthand, at the MedCure Surgical Training Center.

The Portland location is one of three MedCure surgical training centers across the country that provides advanced training to physicians and surgeons. These opportunities are made possible through whole body donations.

“(People who donate their bodies to science) want a positive experience and don’t want death to be the end,” said Valere Beck, marketing coordinator for MedCure. “They want to donate their bodies to education and feel relieved they are helping to benefit medicine.”

Cadavers often are frozen, thawed out and brought back to room temperatures, where they are set up in the lab to mimic a surgical setting.

“Cadavers are very forgiving,” Beck said. “If you make a mistake, you’re not killing someone. But this is essentially like a real-life situation. If you walked in here, you wouldn’t know that there wasn’t a real surgery going on.”

Students had the opportunity Tuesday to ask a panel of staff members their questions about body donations, cadavers and career opportunities in the medical field, followed by a hands-on lab rotation.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Emma Lambert, a junior, examines the external structure of a human brain during Portland Christian Schools hands-on lab with MedCure Tuesday, June 4.

The young scientists examined a dissected human cadaver; scoped the trachea and lungs of a one-pack-a-day, 25-year smoker; observed a healthy knee against a knee with a replacement implant; held a brain; and learned about the C-Arm, a 3-D imaging X-ray machine, and surgical instrumentation.

The Tuesday field trip was organized through Keri Athanas, a first-year science teacher at Portland Christian School. This was the first time MedCure opened its lab to high school students.

“This was a better set-up than a college anatomy class,” Athanas said. “For kids to get to see this is just incredible.

“I hope students gain more of an appreciation for their body and science in general. For how hard surgeons have to work to do every little procedure.”

Athanas had originally planned to take students to Oregon Health & Science University, but when she learned she had to register a year in advance, she opted to pick an alternative lab.

Joining Athanas’ class was Kelsey Anderson’s science class. For nearly all of the Portland Christian students, Tuesday marked their first experience in a cadaver lab.

Junior Dario Zea said he’d seen “Body Worlds,” a traveling exhibit of preserved human bodies and body parts, but nothing like the lab scene Tuesday.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Dario Zea, a junior, tries on a smock that protects from the radition of the C-arm machine. Tea dreams of becoming a pediatrician one day.

“I’m feeling a bit queasy, I have to admit,” Zea said as he examined the dissected cadaver. “But I love helping kids and I want to become a pediatrician.”

Junior Jack Hoffarth said he thought crime scene television shows had prepared him for seeing a real human cadaver, and he felt comfortable handling the specimens.

Hoffarth, his classmates and teachers were struck by the difference between diseased and healthy organs. While the donors’ names are kept confidential, each specimen detailed the donor’s age, gender, race, height, weight, conditions, and cause of death.

“It makes young people acutely aware of their health while they’re young,” said Trisha Pruis, surgical education and training associate. “They realize they’re not invincible and really need to take care of their bodies.”

At the end of their lab, students stripped off their gowns, gloves, hairnets and masks and prepared to return to school.

The room was abuzz with conversations about the cadaver lab and MedCure panel.

“This was the coolest class ever!” one girl said.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Jonathan Manos, Amy Swenson and Emma Lambert hold two brains that were donated to MedCure for educational and research purposes. The brain on the left was injected with color and cut in half to inspect the inner brain.

Connecting students with MedCure

After opening their lab to high school students for the first time, staff members at the Portland center are interested in bringing in more young science students.

“I absolutely love showing the machines, studies and career paths to high school students,” Pruis said. “I’m very excited to make this happen.”

For more information about educational opportunities for students at MedCure, contact Trisha Pruis, surgical education and training associate, at 503-764-9919 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

To learn more about MedCure, including frequently asked questions about body donation, visit or

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