In death, a Colorado woman became a virtual cadaver


Susan Potter (Photo: CU School of Medicine)

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DENVER — Susan Potter wanted to make a difference in life and in death.

“That was my last will and testament: to leave something behind that would have an impact on the whole human race,” she said in a video for the CU School of Medicine.

So, she decided to donate her body to science. She had seen a newspaper article about the Visible Human Project. After their death, a man and woman were frozen, sectioned and photographed for the world to see and learn from on the internet.

Susan decided she wanted to do that, too, so she tracked down the man in charge at the CU School of Medicine. Vic Spitzer, PhD, eventually agreed to take her on.

“She just persisted,” he said.

The two worked together to document her life and health for 14 years, and they became friends.  “For that 14 years, she never wavered in wanting to be in my freezer,” he said with a smile.

That is where Susan ended up. At the age of 87, she died of pneumonia. Her body was frozen, and sawed into four sections. Then, it was sliced and photographed 27,000 times.

Spitzer plans to label every part of every photo and reconstruct Susan’s body in a 3-D model that can be used in virtual reality to teach around the world.

The recordings with Susan when she was alive can be used to fill in who she was as a person.

“She will have an impact in providing a history of her life, and why things look the way they do inside. She had a lot of pain in her life. She had 26 surgeries, she had breast cancer, she had melanoma, she had diabetes, she had screws in her cervical spine. There’s a lot of things for students to look at,” Spitzer said.

Spitzer plans to make a virtual cadaver that he hopes will eventually move and even speak in Susan’s voice, and he hopes students can learn from her disabilities.

“She wanted healthcare workers to become more passionate,” he said.

In that way she will live on, perhaps as the world’s most advanced virtual human.

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