Cadaver lab at CWC Health and Science Center gives new meaning to hands on

Feb 17, 2014 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

When anatomy professor Tara Womack-Shultz describes the human body to her students at Central Wyoming College, she doesn't simply point to a diagram in a textbook.

Instead, she may hand over an actual human heart.

Since November, Womack-Shultz has been incorporating human cadavers borrowed from the University of Utah into her anatomy lessons at the Health and Science Center.

"In general they've been very well received by the students," Womack-Shultz said of the bodies. "It's been a definite plus for the class."

She said the hands-on experience has enhanced the learning process for future nurses at CWC, who now have the opportunity to feel the weight of a human stomach in their hands or trace the ridges of a brain with their fingers.

"They've been able to see the intricacies," Womack-Shultz said. "I think they have a greater appreciation for the human body."

'Super surprised'

Second year nursing student Ryan Nemelka was part of the group that helped Womack-Shultz dissect the cadavers when they arrived. He said he was excited to see how the inner workings of the body fit together like a puzzle - with larger pieces than he expected.

"I was super surprised about how big everything is," Nemelka said. "(The thoracic artery) is probably the size of a grown man's thumb. It's, like, giant. I just had no idea how big it was.

"Seeing the size in person was one of the biggest astonishments to me."

He also has enjoyed being able to feel the body parts. When he drained his cadaver's veins of excess blood, for example, Nemelka said he followed each artery's pathway through the human body.

"In the textbook you can see it and how it roughly looks, but being able to feel the texture of it was quite an experience," he said.

"You can push the blood all the way through the artery and come out somewhere. It was cool to see the circulatory system working first person."

Muscles and features

Student Tyler Graham said he enjoyed using power tools to access his cadaver's brain.

"I don't know if 'fun' is the right word to use, but it was fun to cut open the skull," he said. "The brain is really cool - it's squishy. It's amazing to see it in person."

He wasn't sure what to expect at first, but Graham said he has gotten used to working with the cadavers, which are bright pink due to the chemicals used to preserve the bodies.

"It's not like skin, (so you can) get in the mindset that you're not actually cutting into a human being," Graham said.

Student Rachel Lamb, who plans to study pre-medicine at the University of Wyoming, agreed that it's easier to focus on the task at hand if she doesn't think about her subject as a person.

"I try to not see it as a body, but as muscles and features," she said.

It helps that the cadavers' feet, hands and faces are covered during procedures. There are two cadavers at CWC currently - a man and a woman, both of whom died at 91. The bodies also come with information about the deceased person's name, occupation and cause of death.

"Sometimes it gets me, like that's kind of weird, it's a human," Nemelka said. "But once we get it open and whole chest cavity is open ... all of the emotions are out the door, and we're ready to learn."

He said the atmosphere at the dissecting table is professional and respectful, and everyone who interacts with the cadavers must sign a contract outlining proper treatment of the donated bodies.

Womack-Shultz will keep the cadavers for up to two years, at which point the remains will be cremated and sent to family members, or back to the University of Utah.

Casper College and the University of Wyoming are the only other higher education institutions in Wyoming that use cadavers. CWC students previously dissected cats as part of their anatomy lessons.

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