September 8, 2008 - Harrogate, Tennessee – Some medical students spend their precious free time relaxing, hoping to momentarily escape the rigors of medical school. Second-year osteopathic medical student Carlos Cabrera spent much of his personal time last spring hard at work in the Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM) anatomy lab. But Cabrera did not use this time to study.

“Being around the cadavers for so long during anatomy lab, we sometimes forget that they are real people, perhaps someone’s father, mother, brother or sister,” said Cabrera. “One day I was studying in lab and as I was working on a cadaver it hit me, ‘this could be my mother.’ I feel giving your body for the study of medicine is an incredible and honorable thing to do, and I wanted to do something to acknowledge such a gift.”

After this revelation, Cabrera, a painter since age 13, approached LMU-DCOM officials with an idea. Cabrera asked permission to do something unique: paint a mural inside the anatomy lab as a memorial to the selfless individuals who donate their bodies so that medical students might learn anatomy. Administrators at the school quickly embraced Cabrera’s idea, and the result is a mural that LMU-DCOM officials believe may be the only one of its kind in a medical school today.

Cabrera’s mural design shows seven anatomically correct dissected figures representing all of the body donors whose gift will benefit LMU-DCOM. Cabrera deliberately chose a design that was both artful and functional. “My purpose for the dissection was for future medical students to be able to use the figures as references when studying anatomy in the lab,” Cabrera said. “Extra emphasis has been put on the detail and quality of the anatomy.”

“From day one I was impressed with the quality of the anatomical drawings Carlos did for class,” said Dr. Neal Cross, professor and chair of anatomy at LMU-DCOM. “His sketches are equal to or better than many textbooks.”

Also in the mural is what Cabrera calls a “godly figure,” along with angels reaching down to the dissected figures. “The heavenly beings are there to represent the idea that the body donors have not been forgotten for what they have done and that someone is still looking out for them,” said Cabrera.

The background includes the LMU-DCOM building as well as the Cumberland Mountains, which surround the LMU campus. Cabrera drew the original anatomy dissections in the mural using Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy as a reference. Cabrera began work on the mural in January 2008 and finished the piece on his self-imposed deadline of June 5, 2008.

“Carlos has created a legacy,” said Dr. Ray Stowers, vice president and dean of LMU-DCOM. “His work will be a source of beauty, a source of academic reference, a source of comfort and a source of respect to all of the students who come through the anatomy lab.”

Cabrera was born in Los Angeles but spent much of his childhood in Zacapa, Guatemala. Cabrera’s family now lives in El Paso, Texas. Cabrera has been a practicing artist since age 13 but has never had any formal artistic training. Cabrera earned his bachelor of science degree in biology from Texas Tech University in 2003. Prior to enrolling in LMU-DCOM, Cabrera was a research assistant at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, investigating the effects of protein signaling in leukemia.

The members of the LMU-DCOM Class of 2012 were welcomed to their osteopathic medical education on July 30, 2008, the first day of new student orientation. Their first class – anatomy – commenced on Friday, August 1. For medical students, their experience in the anatomy lab may bring a variety of emotions – anxiety, anticipation, a drive to succeed and a fear of failure. But throughout the many days they and future students spend in the anatomy lab, Cabrera’s mural will stand as a testament to the great respect felt for those special individuals who donate their bodies to science.

The DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine is located on the campus of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. LMU-DCOM is an integral part of LMU’s values-based learning community, and is dedicated to preparing the next generation of osteopathic physicians to provide healthcare in the often underserved region of Appalachia and beyond. For more information about LMU-DCOM, call 1-800-325-0900, ext. 7082, e-mail, or visit us online at

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Caption: Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine student Carlos Cabrera works on the anatomy lab mural in late spring.

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