Niagara Gazette

January 27, 2014

A TEACHER'S LAST GIFT: Niagara Falls resident has donated her body to Body Worlds

By Michele DeLuca michele.deluca@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Patti Zygmont hopes to be teaching and inspiring students into eternity.

She just might be able to do that since she donated her body — upon her death — to a German Company that plasticizes human body parts, best known by their traveling exhibits called Body Worlds.

Zygmont, a chemistry teacher at an area high school, which she requested not be named, is passionate about inspiring students and believes that by donating her body so it can be used to teach students and amaze exhibit attendees, she will be contributing to the planet long after her death.

It was actually her love for science that inspired her decision to sign up with the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany. 

“I love the excitement in kids’ faces when they’re working in the lab and the enlightenment in their eyes,” she said. “When I went to the Body Worlds exhibit, that’s what I saw in the eyes of the people viewing the exhibit.”

The Body Worlds traveling exhibit opened at the Buffalo Museum of Science in 2009, which is when Zygmont and her son, Thomas, then a freshman in high school, saw the sculpted bodies for the first time. 

“I was surprised at the amount of people that attended,” she said. “I didn’t think people would be as fascinated by the exhibit as they were.”

Zygmont recalled her first impression of the bodies, which were plasticized and positioned to highlight the movement of their muscles, veins and arteries. 

“They were perfect, life-like works of art. They reminded me of Leonardo DaVinci. That’s how he started his art career, by drawing the human body,” she said.

Another part of the exhibit showed in detailed manner how the body works under stress, with examples including a heart damaged by high blood pressure. The teacher was inspired to change her life. 

“From that point on, I thought I need to let the small stuff go,” she said. “We forget our bodies are machines and that we control how they work.”

Right about that time, Zygmont, a single mom, had begun to get her life affairs in order, to make things easier on her son, Thomas, after her eventual death. It occurred to her that she did not want to be buried or cremated. When her end came, she decided to first donate whatever organs that might be useful to others. Then, she wanted to give the rest of her body to science. In her eyes, there was no better way to do that then to have it used to inspire a love for learning.

“I’m hoping it will inspire students to go into the area of science,” she said. 

Zigmont joins about 14,000 people from around the world who have already donated their bodies to the Institute for Plastination, according to Dr. Angelina Walley, managing director of the institute and wife of the Dr. Gunther von Hagens, who invented the plastination process 30 years ago. 

“I know that sounds like a really huge number,” Walley said of the thousands who have signed up, “but many of our donors are still pretty young.  It will definitely take some time until these bodies finally end up in our laboratories.”

Most of those donators are Germans due to the publicity the institute receives in Germany, Walley said, adding that list includes representation from all over the world because people often sign up after seeing the traveling exhibits. 

The donor’s have assurances that the doctor and his wife will do their utmost to care for their remains into perpetuity. While her husband is battling Parkinson’s, his son, Rurik, 33, is taking lead of the company to insure its longevity into the distant future, Walley noted.

Surprisingly, among all those donors, many don’t want to end up in the exhibits. Zygmont, who admits to not enjoying the spotlight much, would be delighted to be on display to help teach about the wonders of the human body.  She has been assured that if she were included in any of the exhibits, her family and friends would never know, as the bodies are stripped down to their most basic components. Either way, her son, Thomas, now 21, and a biology major at Niagara University, is very supportive of his mom’s choice and the pair hopes to visit the Body Worlds permanent exhibit at the Discovery Times Square Museum in New York City this summer.

“I think it’s cool that my mom is dedicated to the sciences,” he said. “What she is doing is beneficial in awareness of health and the human body.” 

If for some reason, the institute is unable to use the teacher’s body for display, her remains will still be used to create learning tools for medical students. It makes no difference to Zygmont, as her spiritual beliefs are such that she knows the rest of her will be elsewhere.

“I’m not afraid,” she said, smiling. “My soul will be in Heaven. Hopefully, I’ll be looking down at the exhibit.”

 

 

BODY WORLDS ·Body Worlds: Pulse is on permanent display at Discovery Times Square in New York City, located at 226 West 44th Street, between 7th and 8th avenues. For more information about that exhibit phone 866-987-9692 or visit online at www.discoverytsx.com For more information about Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds, the traveling exhibits and The Institute of Plastination visit www.bodyworlds.com.