e’ve all heard touching stories of organ donors nobly saving one life at a time. But what if a way exists for one person to help save all of humanity?
There is, says Karl Rexroat.
In 2011, after 17 years as a funeral director, Rexroat opened …
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We’ve all heard touching stories of organ donors nobly saving one life at a time. But what if a way exists for one person to help save all of humanity?There is, says Karl Rexroat.In 2011, after 17 years as a funeral director, Rexroat opened Lone Tree Medical Donation at the northwest corner of County Line and Broadway in Littleton. It’s the only locally owned and operated private facility in the area that accepts donations of whole bodies for science.“For me, personally, even though it’s similar, this is even more fulfilling than being a funeral director,” he says. “We’re assisting with the advancement of medical research and training, and bridging a gap between donors and institutions.”The state has accepted whole cadavers under the auspices of the Colorado State Anatomical Board since 1927, when it was created by statute to receive donated bodies for the purpose of education and research.“Human anatomy is the basis of all medical knowledge and can only be learned by anatomical study,” reads its website. “The giving of one’s body at the time of death for anatomical study is truly a noble and commendable act. It is a gift of inestimable value both now and to future generations.”But the need is far greater than the demand: Lone Tree processes about 10 cadavers a month, Rexroat says, but turns down many more.Statistics on whole-body donations are hard to come by. According to Donate Life America, more than 121,000 people were on the waiting list for an organ transplant in 2014. The average wait time for a transplant organ is seven years, which greatly reduces the survival rate; 21 people on the list die every day.One reason for that rift, Rexroat says, is large numbers of those registered end up being unable to donate for health reasons. But private companies like his are working to help fill in the gap and let people know there is another option.The state requires a donor to register specifically for whole-body donation before death. But Lone Tree can accept donations after death from legal next-of-kin. It also accepts bodies of people who registered only as organ donors but ultimately couldn’t have that wish fulfilled because of issues such as communicable diseases or obesity.Lone Tree has fewer limitations on the cadaver’s condition, though it does decline those with communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS or Ebola.“We don’t want to put any of our employees, or anybody else down the line, at risk,” donor liaiason Angela Hoffman says.Most bodies received by Lone Tree go to local medical universities to be used in training of future doctors, because tissue must be recovered within eight hours to be useful in many research applications, including cancer.“It’s one of the uphill battles we have,” Rexroat says. “The decision has to be made very quickly.”Another benefit to whole-body donation is that it’s free, eliminating funeral or cremation costs. Once the corpse is processed, usually six to eight weeks, Lone Tree sends the remains to Drinkwine Mortuary for cremation. The family then receives them in a rosewood urn, along with two death certificates.“It’s a good option for families with limited means,” Hoffman says. “Or they could spend the money on something else, like a headstone or a memorial park bench.”Rexroat says Lone Tree staff deals with each family the same way he did as a funeral director, with dignity and respect in their hour of bereavement.Kate Hendren believes they accomplish that.“I want to thank you so much for the professional way you and your organization handled (her) passing,” she wrote in a note to Lone Tree. “Your thoroughness was much appreciated. I did receive her ashes yesterday and was never expecting such a beautiful cherrywood box to be included.”Medical students who receive the wisdom the bodies have to offer are also grateful.“Even though none of us knew your loved ones before their death, their lives and legacies will live on through each and every single one of us as a result of the nine weeks that we intimately spent with them,” said Alek Blubaum, University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Class of 2018, during the annual Donor Memorial Ceremony the school holds for families. “And even though our anatomy course is said and done, your loved ones continue to live on with us in our hearts and minds, having had the invaluable impact of being our first patients.”
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