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Anatomy Warehouse has Evanston in its bones – and a little bit of Hollywood too

If you have gone to see a health care provider within the past 15 years, chances are very good that you have seen a model from Anatomy Warehouse, a growing Evanston e-commerce company in the business of health education.

Adam Cordell, left, and Liz Huff work at Anatomy Warehouse, a growing e-commerce company in Evanston. Cordell founded the business and Huff is Director of Operations. Credit: Wendy Kromash

Founded in 2005 by Adam Cordell and based at 1630 Darrow Ave., the company sells detailed, accurate and lifelike models of human and animal body parts and processes to colleges and universities, health-related professional schools, government entities, clinics, health care settings and private businesses all over the world.

Closer to home, the Evanston Township High School biology and health sciences programs have benefited from Anatomy Warehouse’s donations of gently used anatomy models.

Cordell, a native Evanstonian and a proud ETHS graduate, has 12 employees, most of whom live in Evanston. Cordell said he is especially proud of how they were all able to shift to working from home during the pandemic; no one lost their job or took a pay cut. Everyone stayed healthy and kept working.

Despite the medical nature of their work, “no one in the office is a doctor,” Cordell said. “But over the past 14 years, Liz has probably gone to medical school.”

“Liz” is Liz Huff, who joined the company in 2008 and is Director of Operations, managing the customized order process. From 2009-2013 the company was processing orders from eight different websites organized under categories including Halloween costumes, seasonal, school supplies, massage and medical apparel in addition to anatomical models.

A model of the spine with some muscle structure is seen at Anatomy Warehouse. Credit: Wendy Kromash

But the business sweet spot was anatomical models, and the company gradually exited or sold off the other lines of business.

Doctors often contact Anatomy Warehouse for assistance preparing for complex and unusual surgeries. Cordell and Huff work with suppliers that can produce unique 3D-printed models that are helpful in pre-surgical preparation, allowing the surgeon to view a surgical site from multiple views and practice different approaches. Cranial models are a specialty.

For products that the company develops in-house, Cordell said it relies “on a team of external medical professionals to review or contribute” to the quality control process.

“Medical device companies, pharmaceutical companies and life sciences companies might contact us for anything,” Huff said. “We’ve made trophies. It could be adding a customized logo to the base of a model. It could be developing a completely bespoke training model for demonstrating a surgical technique … or an R&D model for testing a new device prior to regulatory approvals.”

Both Cordell and Huff said they are much more aware of what their doctors do as a result of their work. “We’re training future doctors and nurses. We’d better do a good job because we could be their next patient,” said Huff.

Simulated wounds, as seen on TV

Their work isn’t all dry and technical, and you don’t have to have taken a college-level anatomy course to see their products up close – if you’ve watched shows like Bones or The Walking Dead on television you’ve likely seen their work too.

Anatomy Warehouse sells moulage, or simulated wounds, used in movie, television and theater productions as well as health training and education, such as disaster training for first responders.

“We sell mannequins that can be wirelessly programmed to bleed, vomit and seize,” Huff said, all to make the scene or training that much more realistic.

Products sold by Anatomy Warehouse are displayed. The company offers a range of skin tones for its models. Credit: Wendy Kromash

Cordell and Huff are responsive to what their customers want. Skin tones are available in light, medium and dark. The company embraces adapting models to reflect diversity in bone structure, including skeletons that are not just of European descent.

“The medical community has been driven by European men … forever,” Huff said. “But there is a broader selection that we try to represent, and we are pushing our European manufacturers to represent.”

Within the last few years the company has updated its product descriptions to eliminate ethnic or geographic references. Faces are described as having masculine features or feminine features instead of being labeled male or female. “It’s a dynamic space,” Huff said. “It’s our job to listen to our customers and to our community and to have them lead what they feel is the best way to represent those things.”

The products also represent different body types. “On the mannequin side, there are rescue training mannequins that are specifically focused on water rescue, and they can simulate a realistic weight or a heavier model to be more difficult,” Huff said. “We also have bariatric models with different weights and proportions.”

Company looking to grow, can’t find right spot

The company’s no. 1 product on the anatomical side is a full-sized male skeleton. On the health care side, “IV arms” are the sales leader. IV arms are used to teach blood draws, injections, infusions and needle selection. The way to get good at a skill like a blood draw is to practice, repeating the same action, correctly, over and over. A good model enhances that training.

And now Anatomy Warehouse is looking for more space. It hasn’t found the right spot yet, but Cordell emphasized how special Evanston is to him and his team.

“We really hope we can stay here,” he said.

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