Who is Susan Potter?  – Biography

At the age of 87, Susan Potter became an immortal corpse. Yes, she now lives in the digital form as a cadaver. A German migrant to the United  States, Susan Potter donated her body to the Visible Human Project. She volunteered to donate despite being advised not to by Dr. Victor Spitzer who headed the project. He insisted that she be a live specimen, thereby letting him and others in the medical community observe her medical conditions. 

Susan was a cancer survivor with a double mastectomy, diagnosed with melanoma, and had about 26 surgeries performed on her with wires and screws all over her body. She also had a hip replacement. With her perseverance and desire to contribute to medical studies, she succeeded and became an online cadaver of high resolution after her death. The first human body in digital form was that of Susan. Continue reading to learn more facts about Susan Potter.

Visible Human Project

The notion of the Visible Human Project was to turn a live corpse into a digital form. This was made possible by freezing and imaging every cross-sectional layer of the human body. The National Library of Medicine funded this project. Dr. Victor Spitzer, the Director of the Centre for Human Stimulation at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus performed the procedure. 

Dr. Victor did not want to take Susan as the cadaver, as they were looking for an individual with no diseases or abnormalities. But Susan was stubborn in marking her contribution to the project and aiding medical education, as her body had many diseases and abnormalities, more like what the student’s future patients will have. When Susan died in 2015 from pneumonia, the project officially started 15 years after the original commitment.

After she committed to the initiative, her life was documented till her death and after. During the fifteen years that Susan lived before becoming a corpse, Dr.Victor and Susan bonded quite well.

Susan’s Digital Corpse

Susan Potter was coated with polyvinyl alcohol and frozen for two years, from 16th February 2015 to 9th March 2017. Susan’s frozen specimen turned into 27,000 slices; each slice was 63 microns. She was initially cut into four blocks, and separate slices of each block obtained were joined together at the end. 

It took about 60 days to slice Susan entirely to get 27,000 slices. The room where Susan got sliced had rose paintings around. The group that worked with Susan’s cadaver listened to classical music. These were the requests that Susan laid before her death. 

Pictures were taken at every stage of slicing Susan. She wanted to visit the space, see the types of equipment, and the setup where the slicing will take place. The slices captured turned into a 3D image, where students could move muscles, skin, fat, or any components of Susan’s body to understand human anatomy by every layer. The extra element which makes Susan more than just a specimen is her documented video tapes, which show the world what kind of a person Susan was.

The contribution of Susan Potter to science is immense. She will remain immortal as every part of her body by every ounce is digitally captured.