Even in death, one is still able to teach.
At least that’s the case at the Colorado Learning Center of Human Anatomy, in Longmont, Colorado.
The Learning Center, familiarly known as the CLCHA, offers empowerment, enrichment, and education for a variety of healthcare practitioners, yoga instructors, medical doctors, and high school students –basically anyone who wants to learn more about human anatomy, says its founder, Bev Boyer.
Boyer herself has been an anatomy fanatic for 30 years in a career as a Massage Therapist and teacher of Massage and Human Anatomy. From a young age (as we mentioned in a post from February of 2019), Boyer became enchanted with the mystery of “what’s underneath the skin, and how I can affect it,” she says in a recent Anatomy in Clay® Learning System podcast .
However, there was a slight problem in her early anatomy learning: Boyer had almost no opportunities that exposed her to cadavers or real-life examples of tissues and organs. “Cadaver labs” were mostly limited to the university setting. But in a high school or private setting, where could curious citizens “show up and learn” human anatomy? The options were hard to come by.
Ivannie Whistance, Vice President of the Board at CLCHA, assures that the lack of such opportunities persists to this day in anatomy education. Whistance, apart from a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master of Science degree in Forensic Medicine, has four years of intern experience at CLCHA under her belt.
“I went to a cadaver lab in high school,” she reflects, “but it wasn’t enough.” In retrospect, she wishes it was more integrated into her education. Now, at CLCHA, Whistance assists in dissection, oversees autopsies, and helps direct student interns.
The steps that Boyer and Whistance are taking at CLCHA actively ensure that, at least in Longmont, motivated students need to not wait to experience real-life anatomy. Since 2014, Boyer has welcomed 22 donors at the CLCHA. Currently, there are 20 living donors (individuals who, in passing, will donate their bodies to the CLCHA), the youngest of which is 40, and the oldest 90. There are eight current “teachers” at the CLCHA. When Boyer speaks of the teachers, it is with awe and utmost respect. “They are honored in death,” and knowing that they are being repurposed for education “gives them a zest while alive,” she says.
But what does a cadaver lab have to do with the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System, you might wonder?
Boyer moved to Colorado in 2001 to teach at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy, a school that had a well-established relationship with the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System. She loved it. So much so, that after owner Jon Zahourek created an educational classroom in Boulder, Boyer helped schedule classes for the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System.
Zahourek, at the time, wanted to expand anatomy learning in the area. Boyer suggested combining cadaver labs and the hands-on, clay-based approach. Zahourek was hesitant. “It took years” of convincing, she admits.
Since 2016, the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System has occasionally offered “Clay & Cadaver” workshops. What was once an unlikely partnership of cadavers and clay models is now “a beautiful thing,” says Boyer. She has taught alongside Zahourek in these classes and has witnessed the “wonderful dance” that happens as students shuffle back and forth between cadaver and clay model.
Boyer considers the partnership between cadaver and clay essential to the work at CLCHA. The beauty in the models is their uniqueness. There is no “one way” to construct them, and recreating the same model twice is impossible: facts that parallel a world in which no two human bodies are the same. “Every stroke makes each model a little different… so when we think about the way that we move and use our bodies, that’s how we create ourselves in modelling,” says Boyer. No two “teachers” are the same at CLCHA; students are able to see “challenges and life history,” unique to each teacher, etched into the organs and different anatomical parts.
The Covid-19 pandemic required Boyer and Whistance to adapt their work at the CLCHA. For the first time, they “took the plunge” into social media, a move Boyer says has been “very successful.” The two created a Youtube Channel that feature videos ranging from skeleton muscle movement to determining age, gender, and ethnicity from a skull. Boyer adds that part of their current work is editing and getting videos in line with national standards to include in high school Anatomy and Physiology curriculum.
In closing, we ask Boyer and Whistance if, in all their experience, they have a favorite anatomical part in the human body. For Whistance, the answer lies somewhere in the abdominal cavity. “Every time you open up the abdominal cavity, you will find something new.” If she had to choose one, it would probably be the liver, for its shape-shifting powers and ability to regenerate.
Boyer, when asked, does not hesitate in saying “the omentum.” The omentum takes the form of an apron that hangs down from the stomach, floating over the abdomen. It is integral to the health of one’s viscera, and it cleans up bodily debris and maintains tissues after surgeries. What’s not to like about the omentum?
Thank you, Bev and Ivannie. We appreciate all that you do at the Colorado Learning Center of Human Anatomy!