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From a donor in the anatomy lab, a final lesson

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2009 - Spring


Four first-year medical students in the anatomy lab watched closely in February as Shukrulla Ghofrany, M.D., lecturer in surgery (gross anatomy), hunted for the .22-caliber bullet in the body of the donor they’d been studying since the fall. An X-ray showed that it was lodged near the 12th vertebra, and Ghofrany was struggling to find the shell, which had gone untouched for 73 years.

“The bullet is intact, so we know it didn’t hit bone,” said William B. Stewart, Ph.D., chief of the section of anatomy and experimental surgery, as he studied the X-ray.

While Ghofrany probed, student Rany Woo methodically kneaded the donor’s kidney. “What’s that?” she asked. Moments later, she held the bullet in her gloved hand as classmates crowded around.

The students couldn’t have known it, but the man who donated his body after learning he had incurable lymphoma would have taken great satisfaction from this scene. C. Charles Peterson, “Chuck” to family and friends, “loved to teach,” said his widow, Carolyn.

Peterson was 7 years old when his playmate accidentally shot him with a gun the boys had found in a neighbor’s bedroom. The doctors left the bullet because Peterson was unbothered by it.

Peterson lived a full life until his death in December 2007 at the age of 80. He married and had five children, served in the Naval Air Corps as a night carrier pilot, initiated an after-school computer program while teaching in Missouri in the 1960s, wrote and taught a hands-on science program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was vice president of Middle East programs for Sikorsky Aircraft.

Peterson shared his wish to donate his body with his family, who, after some agonizing, agreed. “Dad was a teacher and a scientist, and furthermore, he loved to work,” son Charles said. “This is the very thing he’d want, that after he died, he’d have a job to do.”

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