S t a f f  P r o f i l e



Ronn Wade
Preparing Bodies & Doctors
                                                                         A T  M A R Y L A N D

The decision to donate one’s body to science—a selfless, generous act that ultimately saves lives—is a difficult decision to make. But if it were not for the thousands of Maryland citizens who have already donated their bodies to medical education and research, there would be far fewer breakthroughs and life-saving treatments available today.

Wade with ABC's Tom Jarrell
Wade with ABC's Tom Jarrell

Ronald S. Wade, director of the anatomical services division of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the Maryland State Anatomy Board, has been with the medical school for 27 years. As director of the anatomical services division, Ronn is responsible for providing cadavers and facilities for surgical training for residents and physicians. (The medical school’s anatomical surgical training facility has the unique distinction of being the only one of its kind in the United States.) As director of the anatomy board, a government entity housed within the medical school that administers the statewide body donor program, Ronn is responsible for providing cadavers for anatomical dissection for medical students at the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University and the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

When Ronn arrived at the medical school in 1974, there were approximately 80 bodies — mostly unclaimed — available each year for use in the state. Today, almost three decades later, 1,500 cadavers are available each year. This incredible increase is due in large part to Ronn’s dedication and commitment to medical education and research.

When Ronn became director of anatomical services he had two goals: to make anatomical donation publicly acceptable, and to make the anatomy board self-supporting. He developed a new budget, established salaried positions, implemented new policies and procedures, and created a modernization plan. He also arranged for the Maryland Department of Health and Hygiene to reimburse the school on a contractual basis for the unique professional medical services it provides.

“Anatomy is not just dissecting bodies,” Ronn says. “Yes, a large part of what we do is to implement anatomical preparations and provide surgical areas and research equipment. But we also assist students to enhance and improve learning, and assist clinical staff to develop skills and expertise, all for the sake of the patient.”

As a major research institution dedicated to developing new knowledge, the school also has a commitment to verifying the old. In 1994, Ronn and a colleague from New York mummified a human body using the exact tools and techniques of the ancient Egyptians. “We had a pretty good idea of how mummification was done, but this experiment was the only way to verify that,” says Ronn. The cadaver spent 35 days covered with 600 pounds of natron, used by the ancient Egyptians to dry the bodies, and was wrapped in 100 yards of linen. “Our goal was to have a control mummy to use to compare to other preserved bodies to see what changes take place over time,” he says. The mummy was on display at the San Diego Museum of Man, was featured in a National Geographic documentary, and has been the subject of several television specials on such networks as The Learning and Discovery channels.

Over the years Ronn has perfected a technique called plastination, whereby polymers replace the water inside the organs’ tissues in order to indefinitely preserve specimens for teaching and research. The three-dimensional specimens, which can be held, cross-sectioned, and even dissected, are an incomparable teaching tool.

There are currently over 70 thousand donor forms on file from Maryland citizens wishing to donate their bodies to science. Ronn says, “This overwhelming number of willing donors really speaks well of the people of Maryland, and their generosity should not be underestimated. I think it helps to know that although a family lost a loved one, some good will ultimately come from a deep grief.” 


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