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The Secret Lives of Cadavers

How lifeless bodies become life-saving tools.

William and Mary Figel were the kind of American couple that now exists only in black-and-white television shows. They met in the summer of 1952 at Rainbow Beach Park on Chicago’s 75th Street. He asked for her number; she told him it was in the phone book. They married the following January and eventually had four children.

In February 1983, William, then 53, was ready to take early retirement from Science Research Associates, an IBM subsidiary where he worked as a computer programmer. William predicted that computers would become a staple of every American home, with one in every room, like television. He dreamed of running his own neighborhood computer store, one where cigar smoking would be allowed.

But that dream seemed far away the winter day when he and Mary and their son Bill sped around Lake Michigan to Columbus Hospital. An aneurysm in William’s brain had triggered a stroke. The next morning, he couldn’t speak or move the right side of his body.

William came home from the hospital about a year later. He refused help with the porch steps and the stairs to his bedroom, gripping the railings with his working left hand. For the next 30 years he worked hard on physical and speech therapy. He learned 25 words and could say “I love you” in a way others could understand. But he never used a computer again.

The Figels’ son Bill and his wife, Kathy, moved five houses down. During summers their kids would take hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken legs to their grandparents. Sometimes they’d come back with cookies.

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