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Finding the Body’s Internal Beauty

Finding the Body’s Internal Beauty

By Wayne Coffey
Medical student Adele Heib honors those who donate themselves to science

A striking piece of art, measuring 3½ by 4½ feet, hangs on the corridor wall connecting the Forchheimer and Belfer basements. It comprises 40 drawings of body parts, ranging from the wispiest air sacs to the chunkiest leg bones, each about 5 inches square and drawn by Adele Heib, a third-year Einstein medical student.

Farther down the corridor, near the Belfer elevator, a magazine rack holds copies of Ad Libitum, Einstein’s annual art and literary magazine. Inside its pages are two more of Ms. Heib’s creations, showing a weathered gas station and an inviting arched entryway. “Drawing is a really nice way to escape the rigors of med school and decompress—to kind of lose yourself in the process,” she says. “For me it’s therapeutic.”

Thanking the Donors

The opportunity to draw the various parts of the body arose when Ms. Heib took the clinical and developmental anatomy course, in which first-year students dissect cadavers to deepen their understanding of the human structure. After completing the class, Einstein students present a gift to their school during the “Convocation of Thanks” ceremony, which celebrates their achievements and pays homage to the people whose bodies were donated.

Four of the 40 sketches of human body parts that third-year medical student Adele Heib completed include, from left: the pelvis (specifically the ilium, ischium, and acetabulum), the diaphragmatic crus, the sternum (rib cage), and the mandible (jaw).

The ceremony, one of the first of its kind in the country, was begun by Todd Olson, Ph.D., emeritus professor of anatomy and structural biology. Every March, anatomy students decide on their gift and then present it. New gifts take their place alongside previous ones along the Belfer-Forchheimer corridor, including a mounted and framed blue scrub top, signed by every student in one class, and a surrealistic painting of Albert Einstein wearing headphones.

Drawing is a really nice way to escape the rigors of med school and decompress—to kind of lose yourself in the process. For me it’s therapeutic.

— Adele Heib

“Station #59,” one of Ms. Heib's drawings that has appeared in Ad Libitum magazine.

Ms. Heib’s drawings, selected as the class gift for 2018, took three weeks to complete. She worked on the project day and night while studying, painstakingly drawing one body part from each of the 40 cadavers dissected that year. Her favorite mediums—ink and graphite—captured the nuances and contours of structures representing every major organ system in the body. She found it a powerful way to reinforce many of the anatomical intricacies she had learned about in the course.-

“The human body is amazing and fundamentally beautiful, and I wanted to represent that,” Ms. Heib says. “There’s so much fluidity, so many patterns and lines. And I like using black and white to make it cohesive.”

Sherry Downie, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and structural biology and in the Arthur S. Abramson Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and current director of the anatomy course, regularly walks through the Belfer-Forchheimer corridor and says she continues to be impressed by Ms. Heib’s work. “Adele’s drawings are beautiful, but what strikes me the most about them is the fact that she thought to create one to honor each cadaver.”

"Entryway" is another of Ms. Heib's sketches that has been featured in Ad Libitum.

Linking Art and Surgery

Ms. Heib says she has loved art for as long as she can remember. Growing up in Rye Brook, New York, she would often draw on her own at home.

As much as she savors every opportunity to take out her sketch pad, Ms. Heib knows that pursuing a career in medicine was the right choice for her. And when she recently did a surgical rotation, she realized that her artistic sensibility might well make her a better physician, too.

“I am a very visual learner, a very tactile, hands-on person,” Ms. Heib says. “During an operation, you have to visualize in your brain how it’s going to go. You have to know your anatomy and be very particular about everything. If I go into surgery, I think my art background will help with that visualization and with mapping out what I have to do.”

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