Dying man hoping to leave mark after death

March 7, 2012 11:35:28 AM PST
A man who has only months to live is donating his body to the Sam Houston State University body farm.

Rob Steffens didn't always look as fragile as he does today. In fact, in his younger years, he spent more time risking his life than he did asking questions about it.

"All the pain used to be up here, in my back and lower back, and now it's in my legs," he said.

But life has a way of throwing a mean curve ball every now and then, and Steffens has sadly struck out. At 57 years old, Steffens is dying from Stage Four liver cancer. He has maybe three months to live.

"I was in shock for about four minutes. And I started thinking, it's nothing to be sad about, and I started smiling and I've been smiling about it ever since," Steffens said.

"Really? Why?" we asked.

"It isn't something to be sad about. It happens every second of the day," he said.

"Are you afraid to die?"

"No, I'm not," he said. "But when it comes down to the nitty gritty, I'll probably fight not to have to see it so quick."

But there is something very different about the way Steffens will die and what will happen to his body afterward. You won't eventually find his headstone in a cemetery. No, first we will chronicle his death, all the way to his last breath. Then, Steffens's body will be studied, experimented on, dissected and reconstructed. Then he will be left in an open field to decompose, exposed to the elements.

"I don't mind a bit. I won't be there. It's going to be a dead body," Steffens said.

"Does it concern you at all that, however respectfully, that your body is going to be put in a field to decompose?" we asked.

"Doesn't bother me a bit and I don't see why my body needs to be respected because I'm not in it. I'm gone. I'm dead," he said. "I want to help mankind, and I also want to help Sam Houston University."

Sam Houston runs one of most respected forensics labs in the country and the only body farm west of the Mississippi. It's hidden deep in the woods near the Sam Houston campus in Huntsville.

"His whole contribution to us is invaluable," Dr. Joan Bytheway said.

Dr. Bytheway runs the laboratory, training forensics students. She says a live donor is a rare find.

"Here we have someone who my students got to meet, that is a living person, he's part of mankind. He's going to pass on, we're going to have his remains. So they are seeing a living side and then they're going to see the skeleton remains and they're going to be able to handle those with respect," Dr. Bytheway said.

After Steffens dies, his body will be brought to the lab for experimentation, and then laid in the field to rot and studied for crucial stages of decomposition.

"He was so excited about it, it just makes me more excited as well," Dr. Bytheway said.

But before his sentence with death and the body farm, Steffens is enjoying life. He is listening to Mozart, pondering about the "other side."

"Do you feel like you are ready and prepared to go?" we asked him.

"I'm prepared," he said.

"Are you?"

"I'm preparing myself everyday."

"Do you feel like you've had a fulfilled life?"

"I think so," he said. "I'm happy."

"And even in dying, you're happy?"

"I'm still happy."

He has a great attitude consider what's in store for Steffens. Our first visit with Steffens was a few weeks ago. We saw him again just a few days ago and his condition is deteriorating rapidly. We will bring you regular updates on Steffens's short life, his death and his contribution to forensics science.


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