When Tania Birss died in the winter of last year husband Tim left her side to make the relevant phone calls.
On the list were family members, friends, the undertaker and then there was the University of Newcastle.
In the months preceding her death from cancer, Mrs Birss, 45, made the altruistic decision to donate her body to science.
And on June 30, the young Lorn mother became one of the 10 Hunter people in 2011 to do so.
“Tania wanted to do as much as she could to help the medical profession and she thought that if leaving her body helped then that’s what she would do,” Mr Birss said.
“She was of the belief that when you die that is it. Your soul may move on but your body is really only flesh and bones.
“We’ve all got different thoughts on that but that’s what she believed.
“Tania believed that if someone else can get some use out of your bits and pieces then why not?
“I know a lot of people disagree with that, but it was always fine with me and I never had a problem with what she wanted to do.”
The University of Newcastle accepts donations of human bodies from the Lower Hunter, Newcastle and Central Coast regions.
On average, the university accepts 15 to 20 cadavers a year. Almost 100 bodies have been donated to the university during the past five years.
Most donated bodies are used to teach anatomy to medical students and other health science undergraduates.
Generally, donated body parts are dissected to show muscles, blood vessels and nerves.
In some cases they are used for medical research or to help train surgeons.
Mrs Birss was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 41 and after treatment it seemed to disappear.
Tragically, the cancer returned in the form of four deadly brain tumours and, despite ongoing treatment and surgery, she lost her battle for life.
“When Tania died an undertaker came and took her away. The university couldn’t guarantee they would use her body and Tania knew that, but she was just of the opinion that if they wanted her they could have her,” Mr Birss, 45, said.
Only once did Mrs Birss – mother to Jed, 11, and Della, 7 – consider changing her mind.
“Tania had a couple of weeks there where she wasn’t sure because she found out what would happen to her,” Mr Birss said. “But in the end it was something she really wanted to do.”
Mr Birss knows his wife’s body will be carefully dissected, stored in a cooler and examined by the next generation of doctors and scientists.
“They have to do that to have a good look and it doesn’t bother me,” he said.
“But I know a lot of people aren’t too comfortable with the idea because it’s extremely confronting. But Tania believed in helping the cause right up until the end and I’d be happy enough to do it myself now.”
DONATING YOUR BODY: HOW IT WORKS
When a donor dies, the Body Donor Program co-ordinator makes arrangements to take the body into the care of the Discipline of Anatomy as soon as possible.
If the university accepts the donation, the body is embalmed to preserve the tissues and prevent deterioration.
The use of donated bodies is strictly governed by government legislation. Usually this legislation allows the university to retain and use donated bodies for four years.
At the end of this period the university arranges and pays for the cremation of the donor’s remains.
A donor also has the opportunity to give the university permission to keep their remains for longer than four years. This enables further teaching and research to be undertaken by the university.
Again, at the conclusion of the donation period the university will arrange and pay for a cremation of the donor’s remains.
- For more information contact the University of Newcastle Body Donor Program on 4921 5663 or via email@example.com