This Denver Woman’s Cadaver Was Cut Into 27,000 Slices. It Was Her Final Wish

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Photo: Susan Potter Body
A cross-section of Susan Potter's digitized body made by the Center for Human Simulation at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

When Susan Potter decided to donate her body to science, she wanted to make an impact on humanity.

"This will be my last will and testament," she said in a 2002 interview. "To leave something behind that would have an impact on the human race."

Potter died in 2015, but thanks to groundbreaking technology and a long collaboration with University of Colorado scientist Vic Spitzer, she'll live on for generation of medical students. More than a decade before her death, Potter approached Spitzer, who heads CU's Center for Human Simulation, and asked to donate her body to science.

Over the years, she recorded several interviews with Spitzer, describing her numerous illnesses and surgeries, and her relationships with the medical people who treated her. Her goal, Spitzer said, was to instill compassion in future doctors.

After she died, Potter's body was cut into 27,000 slices. Images of each are being digitized and her body is being virtually reconstructed. Someday, Spitzer hopes, when medical students go online to see her re-created anatomy, they'll also hear her voice from those recordings describing her medical history.

Susan Potter's story is chronicled in the latest edition of National Geographic. Spitzer talked to Colorado Matters about his complex relationship with Potter and the medical value her donation will have.