ST. LOUIS — Tim Taylor knew how he could give back in death to society — by becoming a specimen for Dr. Gunther von Hagens’ world-famous “Body Worlds” exhibits.
“I had never even heard about ‘Body Worlds,’ but when my family and I were done with an Omnimax movie, I said, ‘We ought to go check it out because it’s about anatomy, and I find that interesting,’” said Taylor, 41. “Science has always been my thing. When I went in, I was amazed.”
He saw his first von Hagens’ exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center, where “Body Worlds and The Brain” runs through Oct. 2. Taylor spoke at the exhibit about his decision to donate his body for Plastination, a preservation process invented by von Hagens.
At the end of each exhibit, body donation information is available.
“The more I thought about it, it is something to help educate people in the future; that’s better than being cremated or buried,” said Taylor, of Wellsville, Mo., about 40 miles east of Columbia, Mo. “Your choices are limited when you pass on, and this is a useful purpose.”
Even though Taylor used to smoke cigarettes, now he is “healthy as a horse,” as far as he knows, he declared.
“I’m not sick; it’s just not bad to plan for the future,” he said.
Von Hagens’ Plastination halts decomposition and makes a specimen permanent.
Von Hagens found a way around the problem.
“By putting a specimen in volatile solution, the water is removed,” said Dr. Angelina Whalley, conceptual planner and creative designer of the exhibitions, and also von Hagens’ wife.
In the initial fluid-exchange step, water in the tissues and fatty tissues are replaced with acetone, a solvent that readily evaporates. in the second step, the acetone is replaced with a polymer solution.
Then, a specimen is placed in a vacuum chamber, and the pressure is reduced to the point where the solvent boils. The acetone is suctioned out of the tissue at the moment it vaporizes, and the resulting vacuum in the specimen causes the polymer solution to permeate the tissue. This exchange process is allowed to continue until all of the tissue has been completely saturated.
This step can take days for thin slices of specimen but several weeks for whole bodies.
“While silicone is still soft, we put the specimen into positions, an anatomical position,” said Whalley, who lives in Germany but spent three days in St. Louis when the exhibit was installed this summer. “It is mechanical, artistic work. When we choose the pose, it makes sense. The joints are in the correct position and at the correct angle.”
Fascinated with von Hagens’ and the Institute for Plastination’s creations, Taylor contacted the institute, which sent him all of the information he needed to know about how to become a body donor.
“They made it very easy, enclosing all legal documents, including one your spouse has to sign about your intent to be donor,” Taylor recalled. “They like to have medical history in case there is something interesting they can use during exhibit.”
Taylor smoked for 20 years and quit in 2006, a year before he saw his first ‘Body Worlds’ exhibit the last time it came to St. Louis in 2007.
“I was really taken with it because it’s not just a sterile textbook anatomy lesson,” Taylor said about von Hagens’ exhibitions. “It’s more of an art exhibit than a medical exhibit, and maybe help people make better life choices, when they see a healthy lung versus a smoker’s versus a coal miner’s.”
Once paperwork is done and approved, the Institute for Plastination sends donors their donor card, which tells families exactly what they are to do in the event of the donor’s death.
There is no personal shipping hands-on work involved for the family with the body, which would go to a facility in Southern California, as opposed to Germany. When a donor dies, the family calls and sets up transportation of the body, which is the only cost they would incur.
“There’s no burial cost, so that would be a call they had to make and monetary cost by family, but could be stipulated in a will instead of a mortuary cost,” explained Taylor, who already was an organ donor. “But by the way, I’m in no hurry to be an exhibit.”
The first “Body Worlds” exhibit showed in 1995 in Japan. “Body Worlds” came to the United States for the first time in 2004. The last time it was in St. Louis was 2007. a different company had a small exhibit last year at the St. Louis Galleria, which was not associated with von Hagens, the inventor of the process and first to exhibit plastinated anatomical specimens.
More than 33 million people worldwide have seen “Body Worlds.”
Artists Nights invite artists into the Science Center to hone their figure-drawing and artistic skills inside the exhibition. Artists Nights are the last Tuesday of every month during the run of the exhibition and are free with the purchase of an exhibition ticket. The final Artists Night is for adults and art students only, because of the use of live, nude models.
Visit www.slsc.org for more information.
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