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Feature Stories

Science Care At Douglas Park

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 21

by Steve Propes

On October 5, about 75 people from a dozen or so families gathered in the conference room of a modest office building in Douglas Park to celebrate “the gift” of deceased relatives and significant others who had literally donated their bodies to science.

The event was held by Science Care at their local facility, one of four locations in as many states where body donations are received and processed, and where surgeons and other medical professionals fly from various hospitals and medical schools around the United States to do research and perform surgery on selected organs of deceased subjects.

Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Science Care Director of Donor Services Melinda Ellsworth said the company’s president and CEO, Jim Rogers started the company 13 years ago. Previously, “Jim lived in Long Beach when he was in the funeral industry.”

Besides the Douglas Park location, which opened in December 2012, Science Care has facilities in Denver, New Brunswick, New Jersey and Coral Springs, Florida, a location that accepts all bodies from East Coast donors as New Jersey does not permit this activity. Long Beach is the donor center for all of California.

Scientific and medical research is one of the two missions of Science Care, a name that links mutually exclusive terms. Science is impartial with no thought to emotional consequences, the opposite of caring. “They chose that name for a reason,” Ellsworth said. “We bridge the gift with its usefulness and the hard science.”
Ellsworth stated that prior to founding Science Care, when Rogers was assisting families with preplanning, “A lot of people had mentioned donating the body to science.”

However there was no clear way to contact medical schools for that purpose. “Even with accepted donations, there were costs involved.” So Rogers had the idea of starting a company that helps families and supplies research subjects to medical schools and hospitals. “At the time, Jim was working on his MBA and he wanted to see if this idea had legs.” It did.

As it’s illegal to buy or sell body parts, the donor receives only free services, paperwork, transportation and other requirements for a legal disposition of a body. Science Care income is generated from the research end for services such as “Assessment of donors, procurement, storage, shipping and setting up labs.” The family is sent a card indicating the ways the body is used in research and after research is completed.

In about a month, the family or survivors receive the cremated remains. “We deal with consent forms, then check with family in a few days to offer grief support. There are always cases that touch close to home.”

During that event, several family members, who had brought photos and spoke of their loved one, made the point that the deceased person was able to make a “gift” even after their passing.

On the scientific side, Ellsworth stressed the value of “Hands-on medical training. It’s a working surgeon learning center,” to which surgeons and researchers fly in for several days of training several times a month. “You could have three to 150 doctors in our lecture hall. Surgeons find they can have a better outcome for their patients.”

“We’re close to the airport and typically have a program worked out with the Courtyard Marriott. We’ll know in advance, so we make amenity arrangements,” said Ellsworth.

“We have a very large operating suite with 18 surgical stations available. Each event is run by the facilitator, a medical device company or a researcher.” As an example, “It can be new technique for knee surgery, six stages set up for each stage of the surgery, so all can get hands-on experience. Think of any kind of hip, knee, cochlear implants, pacemaker development, robotic surgeries.”

“The fee varies depending on a lot of things,” said Ellsworth. It depends on the specimen; tiny specimens can be under $100. Hard to find specimens are like a particularly diseased heart. We do a medical and social screening” when the body is accepted.

“When the loved one dies, people don’t know what to do. If they call us, we educate the person. We’ll do a ten minute questionnaire to determine if we are able to match this donor with current research or training programs. We disqualify the overly obese and those with a contagious disease, such as HIV, TB, hepatitis and syphilis, as these are unsafe.” Furthermore, “There’s not a lot of demand for under 18-year-old donors, one or two a year. If they were in a car accident, we have to be concerned with trauma.”

“Grief is hard on people,” said Ellsworth. “Sometimes we have to work through family dynamics; not going forward if a whole family doesn’t agree. We’ll have families who have siblings who don’t talk to each other who are against it. We don’t want to break up a family.”