Channel 5's Body Donors: Man Whose Body Was Donated To Medical Science Will Be Dissected On TV

Man Whose Body Was Donated To Medical Science Will Be Dissected On TV

Diagnosed with a terminal illness, marine archaeologist Mike Bowyer decided to save lives, by donating his body to medical science after his death.

Even more extraordinary, he wanted his passing, his journey to the mortuary slab and his eventual dissection by medical students, recorded for posterity, by allowing a TV crew to film it.

He said it gave him “control over the short future he had left”. In a final interview, recorded for television, he said: “'Body donation has given me control over what short future I've got because I know there's still another pathway I can take.

“It's not just a complete write off.”

His eldest daughter, teacher Ann Sadler, 56, said father-of-seven Mike wanted his death to have some meaning and to make his passing easier for her.

The late Mike Bowyer and his daughter, Ann Sadler

“He would have thought he was taking the burden of organising the funeral off my shoulders,” she said.

“It wasn’t quite like that in the end, because I never actually knew until the day he died whether Liverpool University, where he’d donated his body, would accept him. It all depended on whether he’d contracted a new infection.

“He’d been treated for bowel cancer, had a quadruple heart bypass and was suffering from myeloid leukaemia, so he was vulnerable.”

Mike, 77, from Bangor, North Wales, was cleared for body donation, so the arrangement went ahead as planned.

Now millions of people will see him alive on screen, talking about his life, before medical students inspect him on the mortuary slab.

Anatomy students at Liverpool University

It’s not for the squeamish or faint-hearted. First Mike is embalmed, a process that turns his skin grey and tough. A group of first-year anatomy students are then encouraged to cut him open.

They fail to make an incision with the scalpel first time as his skin has lost its elasticity.

After opening his chest, they remove his heart and lungs and are encouraged to handle his organs, look inside his body and eventually replace the lifeless body parts for more students to inspect at a later date.

It is tough for medical students, so will be even tougher for viewers.

Student Emily Tasker is the first to feel light headed and leaves the room for a while. She said: “You will see in the programme that my first introduction to a cadaver was a difficult one, reminding me of how fragile life is.”

It was difficult for Ms Tasker, but for Mike’s loved ones, it will be far harder to watch.

Ms Sadler says: “I’m going to be the last to see it. Objectively, I know that’s what he wanted, but I don’t know how I’ll feel when I actually watch it.

“I’ve decided to pace myself and I’ll probably watch it bit by bit. Everyone connected with him has said they’re going to watch it slowly, because they don’t know how they’ll feel.

“At the moment it’s like it’s not happening to me, but I think the documentary will really bring it home to me.”

It’s hard to know how the public will react when they first see Mr Bowyer talking about his life, only to go on and view his autopsy.

Ms Sadler, who grew up in Welshpool, Mid Wales and now lives near Chicago, with husband Peter, and her two daughters Franny, now 23, and Georgie, now 20, said: “The hardest part will probably be watching the interview he gave before he died.”

A fan of oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, Mr Bowyer learned to dive and became a commercial diver. For 30 years he worked as a marine archaeologist, actively involved in the recovery and restoration of historic sites, wrecks and artefacts.

The recovery of the 300-year-old Bronze Bell shipwreck off Tal-y-Bont, North Wales, was a high point in his career, as was working on the Victorian submarine Resurgam built in 1878 - acknowledged with an invitation to take tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Ms Sadler, who has two younger brothers and a sister, was 12 when Mr Bowyer was separated and divorced from their mother.

“It took him a long time to settle into what he really liked to do which was when he was 50 and finally became a marine archaeologist.”

Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007, My Bowyer, who died in September 2014, was treated with chemo and radiotherapy and given the all clear.

But the treatment affected his heart, he suffered a heart attack and needed a quadruple bypass.

He recovered, but in March 2014, was told he had acute myeloid leukaemia and was given 12 weeks to live.

“He did bounce back after treatment, but then had the heart attack. He was in Royal Liverpool University Hospital recovering from heart surgery when he learned about the organ donation programme,” said Ms Sadler.

“He asked if I minded and I said, ‘It’s up to you.’ I think organ donation is a good idea.”

“One of the hardest things for family of people who’ve donated their bodies is that you don’t get their remains until they’re finished with.

“For us, it took eight months so we went through that whole cremation process then. For some families, after donating a loved one’s body to medical science, it can be up to three years and that must be something you need to consider carefully.”

The last time Ms Sadler saw her father was July 2014.

He was cremated and his ashes sit on her sister Louise’s mantelpiece, as the plan to scatter them in Bangor Harbour was scuppered by an almighty storm.

Liverpool University arrange a bi-annual service of thanksgiving for all body donors. At Mike’s service, in May 2015, more than 70 donors were honoured by friends and family. The medical students who worked on the bodies read out a role call and sang contemporary songs. Ms Tasker sang a solo.

For Ann, and Mike’s family and friends, it was a chance to say a final goodbye.

“He had regrets in his life, but I think he felt by donating his body he was doing some good. He was an education zealot so the fact that medical students have learned something from his death would have appealed to him. I’m still not sure how long before I will be able watch the documentary though.”

*The documentary will also feature the autopsy of 54-year-old former nurse and breast cancer victim, Diana King, from Blackburn, Lancashire. Surgeons needing to practise removing a hip, for a hip replacement operation, practise their skills on her cadaver.

Body Donors, is shown in two-parts and screened by Channel 5, in a TV first, on Tuesday, September 29, at 9pm.