Body Worlds Exhibits - A Great Way to Learn About (and Regain Respect for) Your Body

Dorian Martin Health Guide November 05, 2008
  • Sometimes to get a better appreciation for the wonders of your body, you need to have an "out of body experience." That's what my friend, Mara, and I did by attending one of the travelling shows of BODY WORLDS, which is being presented by the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.

                We both were a little worried walking into the show, BODY WORLDS 2 & The Brain - Our Three Pound Gem. An accompanying brochure explained, "The exhibition features more than 200 authentic human specimens, including whole bodies, individual organs, and transparent body slices that have been preserved through the groundbreaking process of Plastination." So yep, we were going to be looking at people who had died, but who had donated their bodies prior to their death to be used as part of the exhibit.

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                To understand better what people will see, let's explain preservation process, according to the exhibit brochure: "Plastination, the groundbreaking method of halting decomposition of anatomical specimens and preserving them for medical study and health instruction, was invented and patented by anatomist and physician, Dr. Gunther von Hagens....During Plastination, a gradual process that takes nearly a year, bodily fluids and soluble fats in dissected specimens are first replaced with reactive plastics, then set in dynamic, lifelike poses for optimal learning, and finally stabilized through hardening." Skateboarder copyright Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Planstination, Heidelberg, Germany, All rights reserved.

                It might sound pretty gruesome, but what we saw was fascinating. As we wandered around the exhibit, I found myself promising to be better about my health regimen. And I watched parents have effective tools to teach children about their body. For instance, one exhibit case featured three sets of lungs. The first set exhibited healthy lungs and a heart. Healthy lungs copyright Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany, All rights reserved.

    The second set, a gunmetal color, was taken from a smoker. Smoker's lungs copyright Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany, All rights reserved.


    And a third pair of lungs was almost black, having been once used by a miner who suffered from black lung disease. As I viewed the smoker's lungs and thought about my mother (who had suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease as well as Alzheimer's), another mother was spending time with her young daughter. The mother pointed these same lungs, commenting, "Honey, that's what will happen to your lungs if you start smoking." The girl's eyes got really big; I think an important lesson was learned that day.

                Because this exhibit was focused on the brain and the nervous system, we also had the opportunity to see some extraordinary thing; for instance, the complete nervous system had been separated out of someone's body and was on display.

  • And then there were the brains. You can see a healthy brain, as well as one that had suffered a stroke. And in a separate case, I found what I was looking for - a brain that had been diseased by Alzheimer's. And I have to admit to you that I was stunned. You hear about what happens, but to actually see a brain literally eaten out by Alzheimer's disease was boggling. The brain was desiccated. The accompanying placard, which was posted near a huge picture of Ronald Reagan, stated, "Every year, Alzheimer's patients lose five times more grey matter than healthy people."

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                I've shared what I saw that day with my father and several of my friends. In fact, Dad and my friend, Chris, both want to go, so we'll plan another trip to the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences before the exhibit ends on February 22, 2009. And those of you in the western part of the United States may want to go to Salt Lake City's The Leonardo to view Body Worlds 3 and the Story of the Heart. It's a visit that will make a difference in your life; in fact, I guarantee that after visiting a Body World exhibit, you won't take your body and its inner workings for granted anymore.