Walking into the hospital morgue, the high school students were promised that nothing they’d see would be scary or shocking.
By the end of their visit, though, some students may have begged to differ.
The students, who visited the morgue at Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick hospital on Thursday, were mostly unable to hide their apprehension, awe and sometimes disgust as they stood around the stainless steel table covered in human body parts and organs.
Michael Mazzotta, an autopsy pathologist at the hospital, led the presentation, which began with everything hidden underneath blue towels, waiting to be unveiled.
“Everything here is going to be for education,” Mazzotta told the students.
He went on to reveal the body parts one by one and share tidbits of human anatomy trivia. He began by showing the group a thumb severed during a power tool accident.
“It’s not here to shock you. It’s here to teach you,” he said. “… This is a regular guy’s finger.”
He explained the various organs and parts’ different functions in the body and also showed the students many organs that had been plagued by diseases like cancer and body parts that suffered from wear and tear like arthritis.
“This is your knee,” Mazzotta said, holding up a small yellowish piece of bone. “Now, you have to understand this. The cartilage in your body does not regenerate. Once you lose the cartilage, it’s gone forever.”
The students learned several fun facts throughout the presentation: Stomach acid could burn through the table. A human can survive with just one quarter of a single kidney. Hiccups can be vanquished by plugging a finger into each ear for one minute. The brain’s wrinkles increase its surface area.
“If you took a great big hunk of newspaper, like take the New York Times — you don’t want to use The Brunswick News for this — … and crushed it up in a ball, you’ve got this great big piece of newspaper that’s now the size of tennis ball,” Mazzotta explained. “Same thing, just a smaller area.”
Before Mazzotta unveiled each organ, the tension would rise in the chilly morgue room. Some students would lean forward, while others pulled back a little.
Reactions then ranged from intrigued excitement to obvious anxiety or revulsion. The presentation also included many important health lessons.
The stark contrast between the lungs of a smoker and a non-smoker, both displayed on the table, served as a forceful rebuke against taking up a nicotine habit.
“This is a nice lung,” Mazzotta said, holding the small gray lung. “Nice and soft and spongey.”
He then picked up the black, hardened, cancer-plagued lung of a smoker.
“And this is somebody who wanted to partake in smoking,” Mazzotta said. “… This is like a brick.”
The final body part, shown in the last minutes of their visit, made the room descend into an uproar of nervous chatter and laughter for a few moments, before the shock wore off.
“Is that a tongue?” one student asked in an appalled tone.
Mazzotta held the human tongue up high. It was connected to the esophagus, trachea and vocal chords.
“This is the strongest muscle in your body,” he said. “… What’s cool about the tongue? You can eat, you can talk, you can taste. The tongue is one of the only muscles that is only attached at one end.”
The students then pulled on latex gloves and spent a few minutes handling the various body parts and organs and taking photos on their cellphones.
“I thought it was pretty cool to see everything that goes on in a human,” said Sierra Griner, a junior at Heritage Christian Academy.
The students, all juniors and seniors, were members of Youth Leadership Glynn, a group that meets once a month to take trips around Glynn County and to participate in leadership development activities.
“This was probably the most interesting trip so far,” said Alex Kellogg, a Frederica Academy junior, before she pulled on a pair of gloves to touch an organ.