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Interview with: Dr. Mavis Kelsey
Interviewed by: Dr. Joseph Pratt
Date: November 2, 2007
JP: This is an interview with Dr. Mavis Kelsey. The interviewer is Joe Pratt. We are in his home in Houston. It is November 2, 2007. This is the Houston Oral History Project. Dr. Kelsey, we have talked before about your life coming from a small town in Texas and finding the big city of Houston and building a career in medicine and watching the Medical Center grow. Your reflections on that are what we are after today, so I am going to let you find your own path and we will ask you questions if we have them.
MK: Well, I am glad to give an interview about this. I was born up in northeast Texas, the little town of Deport in Lamar County. It had about 800 people. My grandfather was a doctor. And he still had his old buggy and his big old horse, making some house calls in the buggy. I took a few rides with him on house calls and he is the one that inspired me to become a doctor.
And when it came time to go to college, my family wanted me to go to the University of Texas. They even got me registered there and a room in the dormitory but there was a boy there in town who had gone to A&M and he came home wearing the A&M uniform which impressed me - an Army uniform, which impressed me very much and I wanted to go to A&M. So, I finally talked my family into letting me go to Texas A&M. I took premed courses. I graduated in 3 years, as a matter of fact, with honors and was eligible for being valedictorian. While I was there, the premed doctor, I mean professor took a group of us down to Galveston to see the medical school and see if we wanted to go to medical school there or, more than likely, whether we could get in medical school. We spent the day there. It was a very great experience for us. One in our group, Dr. Jim Little, had never been in a town larger than College Station. He came out of the Piney Woods of East Texas. He had never ridden an elevator. And when we got to medical school, he was looking forward to getting on an elevator. Finally, we got in the outpatient building, we all got on the elevator, the elevator operator started up, he looked right at Jim, Jim says, "Oh hell, this ain't nothin'" We teased him for the rest of his life about his first elevator trip. I was accepted in medical school in Galveston and I went there in 1932.
The school had been organized in 1891. As a matter of fact, one of my classmates was the son of one of the original graduates of medical school. It was a very good medical school. I think I still consider it today to be the best medical school to train doctors for private practice of seeing patients. The whole town of Galveston was very supportive of the medical students and brought them in their homes. The professors did the same. For example, one professor was, Dr. Singleton who was head of Surgery. His son, Dr. Ed Singleton, became head of X-ray at St. Luke's Hospital for his career, became an internationally-known radiologist for during all this period when they did open heart surgery and the like. And I knew that family very well the whole time I was there and we are still great friends. After the dean of our medical school had been head of . . . that is where I am having trouble . . . in New York, the Memorial Hospital system, and the dean of New York University called him and said, "We would like to have someone from Texas come up and be an intern at Bellevue Hospital." So the dean asked me would I like to go to Bellevue? And I thought it was great. So, I accepted the internship at Bellevue Hospital and it was a wonderful experience. The first time I had been out of Texas, as a matter of fact. It took 2 or 3 days on the train to get there. And then, I arrived at the New York University part of Bellevue which is divided into 4 parts: the Columbia University part, a Cornell part and there was what they called an open part that did not have a connection, and still part of the medical school. I was with the New York University Division. The night I arrived there, they had a party for all the new residents, so at the party that night, a young man, a another intern came up to me, he had been there before and he said, "I sure am glad to meet you." He said, "I am the only Gentile in the entire medical school and here you are, another one. We are the only ones. The rest of us are Jewish." So, we had a lot of fun about that, and I lived with these boys and they became my very best friends for all my life.
While I was there, I was offered the head residency in internal
medicine, and I accepted and I started in it, but I got a call from Dr. Paul
Brindley who was head of pathology at the medical school in Galveston and he
offered me a job to come and be an instructor in the Pathology Department. At
Bellevue, I was getting $15 a month and they offered me $150 a month at
Galveston. I took the job which was probably a big mistake because they got very
mad at me for leaving Bellevue after they had already put me in the chief
residency position. I found out later when I wanted to apply to the Mayo Clinic,
I asked one of them to give me a recommendation, he said, "We would not give you
a recommendation for anything. We could not trust you," so that was sort of a
bad mistake I made.
Anyway, I went back to Galveston and I taught in the medical school for one year, and Dr. Paul Brindley's brother was head of Scott & White Hospital. He came down to visit, looking for interns for Scott & White. He met with me and he said, "If you'll come to Scott & White for 1 year, I am sure I can get you into the Mayo Clinic because we have a lot of relationships. We trade residents all the time." So, I went to Scott & White for 1 year, and there I met my wife to be. She came there while her sister was being operated on, and stayed with her and. I was accepted at the Mayo Clinic and we went to Rochester, Minnesota in October, I mean September 1939. I was there for over 2 years when . . . and meanwhile, the war was going on over in Europe. The Germans had bombed London and finally, right after I got there, Germany declared war on England and France. That actually started the World War. I had already accepted a reserve officership in the Medical Corps and in July 1941, I was ordered to active duty at Portland Air Base, Portland, Oregon, and I was there when Pearl Harbor occurred. And that particular day, I was Officer of the Day in medicine. I got up that morning, I went to the hospital, and everything was going fine. I saw the officer of the day for the whole base. I went to the hospital. It was fine. I drove back home. That was a Sunday morning. I got home and my wife said, "Isn't it awful what has happened to Pearl Harbor?" I said "What happened?" We turned on the radio and it was all the stories about the Japs attacking Pearl Harbor. Well, I felt like I had to get back to the base in a hurry, so I rushed back out there because our air base was supposed to be protecting the northwest coast of the United States. I went into the Adjunct's office. He was sitting there reading the paper. He did not even know what happened. I went to the hospital. They were still sitting around, and I brought the news to, my wife really brought the news to the Portland Air Base that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. The commanding officer of the base was still at home in bed. They called him out. We started a big . . . trying to get everybody in. Everybody was out everywhere. And so, that is how . . .
Incidentally, just to show you how poor communication was, their only connection with the 4th Air Force headquarters in San Francisco was by public telephone. Just think about it, you do not realize how much advanced communication was and they could not get them on the telephone. And they could not get an answer from San Francisco to even get orders. And they phoned the commander of the base. He came out and started everything going, tried to get all the pilots in and get them patrolling the coast line. That is just how ill-prepared we were for war. And the place was surrounded by a truck farm run by Japanese. And probably a lot of them were Japanese spies. And they complained about how the Japanese were, isolated or what happened to them but we did not have time to check out every Japanese when. Most of them were immigrants. A few of them had been here a long time.
After that, I went to the School of Aviation Medicine in San Antonio and came
back to . . . after Pearl Harbor, I was in Paine Field and when we got orders to
go foreign duty, our organization. I was head,I was a flight surgeon for a
squadron of P38 fighter planes. The flyers left by airplane, their own planes,
and we got on a ship, and we did not realize it at the time but that was when
the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. And we were going up there while the
Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. We did not know it. But we had a destroyer
escort on our ships going to Alaska. And when I got to Alaska, I became the
flight surgeon for the entire fighter command of Alaska and covered the entire
Alaska. But 90% of our time was spent in the Aleutian Isles. I went up and down
the Aleutian Isles. And more than half of our outfit all got shot down or lost
in terrible weather there. I said if I ever got out of this place alive, I was
never going to get on a little airplane again!
So, I finally got out of that and went back to the Mayo Clinic, and during that time, I made a lot of friends and we were trying to decide whether we would go in practice. We had a journal club where we would study different cases, trying to learn more about medicine and we talked about whether we wanted to go in private practice somewhere, or whether we wanted to be missionaries. A number of us said we wanted to organize a clinic. I was one of them. I had been at Scott & White, I had been at the Mayo Clinic. I liked the way clinics operated. Dr. Bill Seybold was another . . . he and I were in medical school together in Galveston. He went to the University of Texas, and Bill Leary was from Minnesota but he became our friend. And we talked about starting a clinic. Well, when we were ending our fellowship, they offered every one of us a job on the staff of the Mayo Clinic. So, we kind of gave up going making a clinic of our own and we went on the staff of the Mayo Clinic. Well, our wives and other people kept talking about going back to Texas, and we had Dr. Mandred Comfort up there, was a Texan who knew all of us. He knew Dr. E.W. Bertner who had started the Texas Medical Center. I say, he had started . . . he was the leading light in developing the Medical Center. And they came up as patients and friends. Dr. Horace Wilkins, who was one of the trustees of the M.D. Anderson Foundation, came up and was a patient. He said, "You ought to go to Houston." And so, although we were on the staff, we started talking again about starting a clinic. And after 2 years, we decided we would go back to Texas. I went around to Texas to several different cities: Paris, Texas; Kerrville, Texas; Beaumont, Texas, other places, and I decided that Houston would be the best place to start in practice. So, we picked that place.
I had been there 2 years when Bill Seybold and Bill Leary came down and joined me. And we started calling the place Kelseys, Leary, Seybold Clinic. A lot of people said, you are crazy to start a clinic right there in a great big medical center where everybody else is in practice. How are you going to make a practice out of that? Well, we thought that if we did not have it in our clinic, we could get it other places in the Medical Center. For example, they had fine x-ray departments in the Medical Center, fine laboratories. Also, Dr. Lee Clark was head of M.D. Anderson Hospital and he and I were together in the Air Force during World War II and also at the Mayo Clinic. He offered me a job as chief of medicine at M.D. Anderson Hospital. And those things all played a part in coming back to Houston. Dr. Bertner said, "If you come to Houston, you can practice in my office until you get your own office." And some number of our friends entertained us. The West families were nice to us, they had been patients at the Mayo Clinic. So, Mary and I decided to come to Houston. And as I mentioned, our practice had an office in the Hermann Professional Building. The building had not even been completed when I got here and that is why I had to stay with Dr. Bertner.
At the time . . . I might give you a little background on the Texas Medical Center . . . I think I am about the oldest person around today that was in the early days of the Texas Medical Center, still surviving. Dr. Fred Elliott was head of a dental college here in Houston, it was called the Texas Dental College, I believe was the name of it. It was a private dental college that had been going since 1907. It had been organized by some dentists in Houston and he was in a dental school in Memphis. They enticed him to come to Houston and be head of this dental college. And he was a very progressive person. He got the dental college on its way. He took a very leading part in the city in promoting health institutions and the like. He was on the Chamber of Commerce which was very active at that time in promoting Houston. He thought up a plan of having a high rise building that had medical offices in it, that had medical facilities, maybe even a medical school - one great big building going to have all that. And he had his dental students make, out of dental plastic, little models of this building. And he would pass these around to people in the Chamber of Commerce, women's clubs and the like, promoting it. He was going to call it the Houston Medical Center. He even had a model of it built in the basement of the dental college, which I saw. And Dr. Bertner was very anxious to develop a medical center here in Houston. So, in the meantime, this was going on in the early 1940s.
And Dr. Bertner convinced the doctors in Houston to get together to help develop a medical center and, at the time, there was 134 acres adjoining Hermann Park which had been bought by Mike Hogg in 1928, I believe, when they tried to convince the medical school to move from Galveston to Houston. That did not go through. So, he still had the land, Mike Hogg, and he sold it to the city for the price he had given for it to, or maybe the Chamber of Commerce. And when Dr. Bertner et. al. decided they wanted to develop a medical center, they convinced these people to take that 130 acres which is now the center of the Texas Medical Center to develop a medical center. And meanwhile, the state legislature voted, it was one million dollars to develop a cancer hospital in the state of Texas. Congressman went from Weatherford, Texas, was the one that put it through the state legislature, and the legislature voted this appropriation and for this cancer hospital to be run by the University of Texas. Well, we had some important people on the Board of Regents at the University of Texas and they convinced the legislature to put the hospital in Houston. That is how the M.D. Anderson Hospital got to Houston and the state cancer hospital got to Houston. And one of the reasons they brought it here was because the M.D. Anderson Foundation offered to put up $500,000 and the Chamber of Commerce would put up $500,000 to build this hospital and they bought this land out there. So, that is how the M.D. Anderson Hospital was financed and how it got to Texas.
Meanwhile, while all this was going on, the M.D. Anderson Foundation
developed. I know about that family very well because I knew all the members of
the Anderson family. The Anderson Clayton Cotton Company really started in
Jackson, Tennessee, when several Anderson brothers, whose parents had fought in
the Civil War, started a bank and started trading in cotton. And cotton was big
in Texas and was big in Oklahoma. The Indian territory. So, Frank Anderson went
to Oklahoma City and started a big cotton trading, buying the cotton from all
the farmers and shipping it. And meanwhile, his brother, M.D. Anderson, they
sent him down to Houston where they were shipping cotton out on the ships to go
up to the mills in England, rather New England. And after awhile, Frank Anderson
died and his sons Tommy and Leland and other brothers to the family, they all
moved to Houston. And M.D. Anderson . . . the Anderson Clayton Company has grown
to be quite a few million dollars, a huge amount. M.D. Anderson did not have any
children. He was getting old, about to die, and he did not want his . . . they
would have to buy him out if he died, and they decided to set up a foundation.
And that is Colonel Bates and Judge Freeman and Horace Wilkins - were people who
helped develop the M.D. Anderson Foundation and, they started giving money
to little things, but this business of the state hospital for cancer coming to
Texas, that was a large opportunity. And so, that is when the M.D. Anderson
Foundation gave the money to help get the cancer hospital in Houston and that is
the reason they named it after him, because his foundation had started it. And
then, the M.D. Anderson Foundation started giving most of their money around to
develop the Texas Medical Center. I think they were probably the ones that
bought the land, the 130 acres of land. The Hermann Hospital was already there
and it soon joined the Texas Medical Center. It was not part of the Medical
Center from the original. So, that is kind of the background of the early days.
This all happened in Houston because the Anderson Clayton Company moved to
Houston so they could ship their cotton out and Texas was the largest cotton
growing state in the union, so that made Houston.
I mentioned how they developed the Medical Center. With Dr. Bertner they got together, Dr. Bertner was a very important man in the Texas Medical Center. He became the first president of it. When they started the M.D. Anderson Hospital, he was the first president, acting president. And he was still practicing medicine actively in Houston. He had a large practice. And he was also investing. He had a ranch and he got in some oil wells. He was a very successful man. He was born in a little town up in West Texas where his dad was a pharmacist. German immigrants, really about two generation German immigrants. I don't know if I can stop a minute.
JP: Yeah go on and stop a minute, I got a good path to take back.
MK: Am I back on track?
JP: Your on track
JP: Dr. Kelsey, you described coming to Houston in 1949 and the events going on that were creating the heart of the Medical Center. Could you describe what was there when you got there? The Hermann Building was not even quite open. The Hermann Professional Building. What did the Medical Center layout look like in 1949?
MK: Well, I am going to tell it a little bit different way. I came down to Houston in 1948 and Mr. Wilkins of the M.D. Anderson Foundation took me around and showed me the Medical Center, and they had gotten it started and they needed a medical school. Meanwhile, Baylor Medical College up in Dallas was having a lot of trouble. They had developed the Southwestern Medical Foundation and had taken control of the hospitals there where Baylor had sent their patients. And they organized it and said that they would have no school or anyone else that had a religious affiliation, could take part in the hospital. Well, that ruled Baylor out completely. It was a Baptist medical school, and this was a real consternation with Baylor. They almost decided to close up the medical school. And I do not know whether the Texas Medical Center came up and asked them or they came over and asked the Medical Center; anyway, they were invited down to move the medical school to Houston, to put it in the Texas Medical Center. That was in about 1948 or 1947. And so, they broke up the medical school in Dallas. About half the faculty came to Houston, the other half stayed in Dallas. They reorganized a new medical school in Dallas called the Southwestern Medical School and Baylor was down here. And both of them were floundering. Did not have any money. And the Chamber of Commerce, M.D. Anderson Foundation, many of the doctors in Houston and others, Jeff Davis Hospital, all got together to support the Baylor medical college which opened up in the Sears, Sears Roebuck warehouse in 1947, I believe it was. And they started building a new medical school out in the Texas Medical Center. And that was the first building built in the Texas Medical Center. And when I came down here in 1948 to look over and decide whether to come to Houston, Dr. Wilkins took me out and showed me the new building of Baylor Medical College. It had on it The Cullen Building. And he said, "My goodness, M.D. Anderson had paid for a lot of that medical school in the Medical Center, and here they called it the Cullen." Well, they pointed out that the Cullens had just given $2.5 million to build the medical school and that they had already named M.D. Anderson Hospital and so that is the reason the building got the name of Cullen.
JP: When you talk about this, it must have been impressive to see so much private energy and wealth mold . . .
MK: Oh, yes. The city really got behind it. The doctors. In my autobiography, I describe I knew practically all the early people that took part in developing it, all the old doctors that took a part in it. For example, many of them volunteered . . . all of them volunteered as professors and teachers. Although they had busy practices of their own, they gave up their time to teach, and spent a lot of their money and effort. I could go into detail about the names but I do not know whether that is . . .
JP: We have got those in your book. You are also busy then trying to figure out where your clinic will fit in all of this. Is that true?
MK: Well, yes. Well, I will go on with that. So, when I came down one year later, in 1949, the Baylor medical college had been built. And it sat there alone on this 134 acres. There was a little creek running between Hermann Hospital and Baylor medical college, and it overflowed actually. And I think some time before that, there was a railroad that went into that property. But it was not there when I came. This creek, they finally built, put a big culvert under it and covered it up, but it has been the cause for floods ever since as everyone knows. And the whole area was open. I had friends, one of my friends, Dr. Jack Staub, remembers when he used to go hunting out there on the grounds, that are now the Texas Medical Center. And a lot of the doctors were more in town and went to Memorial and St. Joseph's Hospital and they said they did not want to go all the way out in the country. And Hermann had built a hospital out there in 1926 for the charity. And unfortunately, it was way away from where the charity patients were. It was just sticking out there in the country. So, a lot of people said, "We don't want to go out there in the country." But anyway, enough of them wanted to go. They filled up the Hermann Professional Building as fast as they could build it for people that wanted to go out there. And I was lucky enough to get some office space in it one year before I ever got here. I signed up for it. So, when I got here, there were all these woods and all around it were second-hand car lots and restaurants, Kelly's Restaurant - I remember one. There was the End of Main Dance Hall. That was another building.
JP: The End of Main Dance Hall?
MK: Yes. Rice Institute was across, as you know. I got an office in the Hermann Professional Building in a 750 feet office, and started practice there. There was a restaurant between downtown called Swayzie's Barbecue. It had a sign on it that said, "The best barbecue in Texas or, the world or anywhere else." That was before the Space Age which we hadn't even thought about.
JP: Was it good barbecue?
MK: Yes, it was very popular.
JP: You started your practice but it was not yet the clinic?
MK: Oh, no. I started a solo practice. My partners did not come until 2 years
later. The first year, I went in the hole about $20,000. I mean, I came out of
the first year of practice minus $20,000, not to mention I owed $75,000 by the
end of the year. And at that time, the Korean War had started and I was still a
reserve officer. And my gosh, they were calling guys back in. I knew Lyndon
Johnson. I knew him all the way back to the Mayo Clinic when he used to visit
some friends there. So, I called Lyndon and I said, "Lyndon, if I get called in
the service, I am going to be out of luck. I owe this money and I cannot" . . .
I said, "I have been trying to resign and they won't even answer my letter!"
Well, about 2 or 3 days later, I got a telegram from him saying that he had
gotten my resignation. And about 1 month after that, I got a call from the Air
Force saying, "We are going to send you orders to get back in the service to run
a medical magazine like you did during World War II." So, that is how close I
came to getting into the Korean War.
I got a part-time job at M.D. Anderson when I came here, M.D. Anderson Hospital. And they wanted me to set up the radioisotope program. I was the first person in Texas to have a license. I was the first person in Houston - I don't know about Texas, to have a license to use radioisotopes. These are the earliest days of radioactive medicine. Now, it is huge. Well anyway, I had that license.
JP: Was that from the Mayo Clinic experience?
MK: Yes, I got that while I was on the staff of the Mayo Clinic. That was the department I was in, in the Mayo Clinic. So, I set up an endocrinology department at M.D. Anderson Hospital. I had set up this isotope lab with the radiology department. We got an old second hand x-ray stand and hooked the Geiger counter on it. They did not manufacture anything with it. We had to put the pieces together. And we got the isotopes and treated the first patients in Texas with radioiodine for cancer. Over the years, it has built up to be one of the largest groups of cancer patients of the thyroid in the country, and we treated the first patients with radioactive iodine. Meanwhile, I was in practice when that was going on. I was doing my private practice. Also, we also made extra money. They had a dean of the postgraduate school of medicine. He left to become commissioner of health for the state of Massachusetts and they asked me would I run the postgraduate school of medicine while they tried to get a new one. So, I took that on half time. We'd do anything to make a buck. And out at Ellington Field, they did not have an internist out there and they had a big hospital, a couple hundred more patients out there, and so, they offered me a job of coming out there as a consultant in medicine. So, I took that job. Bill Seybold was taking extra jobs. They got jobs over at Baylor and they got jobs at the US Naval Hospital which soon became the Veteran's Hospital. My brother joined me in practice and he got jobs in the Veteran's Hospital and Baylor. That is how we made enough money to get the clinic going. [end of side 1]
JP: I am very interested . . . the Mayo Clinic had a great deal of influence on the design of Kelsey Seybold and in what way? What did you learn at the Mayo Clinic that you could bring to Houston?
MK: Well, when we got together to develop a clinic, the original 3 of us all spent our careers in the Mayo Clinic. We trained there. We were on the staff there. We knew how they operated. And before that, most doctors, they did not work together as teams. There were just a few large clinics around the country, and there were a few little clinics in little towns where one doctor ran the whole show and had some doctors working under him and owned a little hospital. They called it a clinic. That was kind of widespread. You do not see that anymore. But to have a clinic with one set of records and one administration which would take care of all the red tape the doctors did not have to take part in, you see. That was one of the reasons for having a clinic. And then, you could refer your patients back and forth to each other without a lot of red tape and they would not have to start over and everything. Those were all some of the reasons we wanted to have a clinic - have it as a general clinic. And we wanted a clinic that covered all phases of medicine, like the Mayo Clinic which covered medicine, surgery, ear, nose and throat, eye, the whole field. So, when we got started and our practice got going because then we started hiring additional people . . . we hired a cardiologist, for example. Well, Bill Seybold was a surgeon. He and Bill Leary were both on the staff of Anderson Hospital. As a matter of fact, Bill Leary left our clinic to be Chief of Pulmonary Medicine at M.D. Anderson Hospital back at that time. So, we just kept . . . well, we got a psychiatrist in. A psychiatrist, we said, would . . . he was at the Meninger Clinic and he was an old friend and he joined us and he brought his patients with him. He said, "I've got 30 patients." He said, "I do psychoanalysis and 30 patients is all I can handle." Well, he got in the clinic and everybody in the clinic needed a psychiatrist, and he ended up spending half of his time doing psychiatry on the people in the clinic. And he finally decided to do more than psychoanalysis. And pretty soon, we had to hire another psychiatrist. We ended up with a half dozen psychiatrists before we knew it.
JP: Did you have a hard time recruiting doctors then to come to Houston?
MK: Not especially. We get when we first got out from the Mayo Clinic, we got a cardiologist from the Mayo Clinic, we got my brother, John, he trained at the Mayo Clinic. We got Jim Kemper, he was a rheumatologist. We got him from the Mayo Clinic. These were highly trained doctors on the staff there and all. And they did not even have these doctors in Baylor. For example, my brother, John, was Chief of Gastroenterology at Baylor. They did not even have a gastroenterologist while he was in our clinic. Jim Kemper was the first rheumatologist over there. I think I was the first trained endocrinologist there, that is how early it was in specialization. When I came to Houston, most people kind of did general practice and then kind of did a little specialty on the side of whatever the specialty was. It had only been a few years before that they developed boards, certification boards. That took place in the few years before we came to Houston. And not a great number of people were board certified, as they called it. Now, they hardly hire a doctor unless he is board certified or what they call board eligible, and scheduled to take his examinations. And we insisted that all the people we brought in our clinic had to be board certified.
JP: Your clinic is growing very fast. When did the idea of branches . . .
MK: I got the idea about branch offices because the Kaiser Permanente Foundation out in California was doing it. We had big fights in our clinic about it. Some of them did not want to do it and some of them did. We almost broke up the clinic. And we opened the first branch office, was opened out in the Galleria - an office building in the Galleria. We opened an office out there. That was our first branch clinic. It just took off like lightning. It really expanded right away. We opened up one downtown. Then, we started branches different places over, starting, I guess, in the 1960s, about then. Over a period of time, I guess we got 25 or so. It was a lifesaver for our clinic really because the Texas Medical Center is getting so large, so crowded. Remember I told you the Medical Center had started out with 134 acres. They had Hermann Hospital. That made 140 acres. Today, it is over 1,000 acres. And in those early days when I was telling you about all the woods, well, they already had on the drawing board . . . the Cullens, Mr. Roy Cullen and his wife gave one million dollars to Methodist Hospital to build a new hospital in the Texas Medical Center. He gave Memorial Hospital one million dollars. He gave all of them . . . the Episcopalians did not have a hospital so Bishop Quinn, the head bishop, he went to Mr. Cullen and he said, "You are giving all these Methodists and Baptists and all these hospitals . . . we Episcopalians want a hospital." So, Mr. Cullen gave him one million dollars to start St. Luke's Hospital. And Mr. Cullen also gave one million dollars, I think, to start Texas Children's Hospital, and the Abercrombies got in behind the Texas Children's Hospital and was one of the major contributors to the development of Texas Children's Hospital. And I tell at one time, there were 10 institutions being built out there at one time. They built a new Hermann hospital, they built Arabia Temple Orthopedic Hospital, they built the library building. And they got one of the professors at Baylor treated Jesse Jones and he asked for a bill -- I forget what happened, how he did it. He sent him a bill for a couple of hundred dollars. So, he said, "What can I do for you?" He said, "You can finance the library." That is briefly the story of, Texas how the library . . . and all the institutions in the Texas Medical Center joined together to make that one library the library for the whole Texas Medical Center. So, it became a great medical library. Baylor turned all theirs over. The Harris County Medical Society had a library down in the Medical Arts Building in downtown Houston and they organized what was called the Houston Academy of Medicine. Its purpose was to develop a library, to maintain a library for the Medical Society and the Dental Society. And so, they all got together and that is what developed the medical library in Houston, and the Texas Medical Center. And all that stuff was going on at once.
JP: One of the real exciting parts of your own clinic's expansion is the Clear Lake area and NASA specialty, and that seems a connection with another growing Houston institution.
MK: Well, you see, I spent 2 years during the war at the Aero Medical Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, and I was editor of a medical journal for the Air Force called the Air Surgeon's Bulletin. I will show you copies of it here. I have got the copies of it showing where they did all the research and development and airplanes, medical equipment, things like pressure cabins while I was there in the laboratory where I worked, we developed a pressure cabin. Pressure cabins in airplanes. Every plane now flies in a pressurized cabin. I was right there when they developed it. And they used to know what was going to happen if the windows blew out. That was called . . . where all the pressure would go out of the cabin and blow out the windows or blow out the door and people that happened to be in the doorway, when it blew them, they were blowing out into the open space. And a lot of that had happened to a lot of open space. Well, Dr. Randy Lovelace, Randolph Lovelace, who I knew . . . we were fellows at the Mayo Clinic together . . . he was head of the Aero Medical Laboratory - he became head of the first scientific effort of the space program. And they were trying to find where to put what is now the Johnson Space Center. He came down here and we visited together. And they set up the Space Center and he said, "We have a temporary office out here at Ellington Field. Will you go out there and take care of those people while we get our space program going, while we get Johnson Space Center?" I said, "O.K., I will do it." So, I went out and I took care of the people out there only temporarily while they were going to move into the Space building. I did it free. And then, they said, "We are going to set up a contract for taking care of us. Why don't you bid on it?" So, our clinic bid on it and we got the bid for delivering the medical care to the Space Program. And we have had it ever since. I do not know how many years it is. 40 years?
MK: And the old Space programs in other places: Huntsville, Alabama, Norfolk, Virginia, California, and we have handled all of those one time or another ever since it started. I was the one that did all that in our clinic. You know, somebody else did this, somebody did that, but that is what I was particularly interested in. I kind of promoted the Space Program myself. I was head of it. I got a great kick out of it. I went to all these places and watched the space launches and all that. It was a great experience.
JP: What are the special medical issues that a space practice requires you to develop?
MK: Well, I mentioned earlier that I had gone to a school of aviation medicine, and then I became a flight surgeon. That is why I was head of all the medicine in the Air Force up in Alaska, that part of it. Then, I was at the Aero Medical Laboratory. And so, I had a background in all that. And I mentioned, like well, at extreme altitudes, if you do not get oxygen, you can die from lack of oxygen. Stuff like that. And your ears, changes in the air pressure, going up and down, you blow out your eardrums, your sinuses, even blowing up the gas in your belly. All kinds of things are medical. And then falling in space, and floating in space, all that affects you. So, all that is a tremendous field of medicine and space medicine.
JP: Your clinic developed fairly rapidly and very thoroughly. What did it feel like when the Mayo Clinic came down to study your clinic?
MK: Well, I am afraid that is kind of an exaggerated deal. What really happened was we had developed branch clinics over a period of time and the Mayo Clinic got interested in that. We were in close touch with them. We were good friends. We went back and forth there. And they knew we had started some branch clinics, so they just wanted to get our advice on something like that. It was not any big deal. I guess you can brag about it but it was not a big deal.
JP: When you look back at this amazing life story and this amazing life story of the Texas Medical Center, clearly you made a good choice to come to Houston. I guess I would like you to just think out loud a little bit about why it turned out to be such a good choice, what Houston offered to help you become successful.
MK: Well, I guess we were more lucky than we are in judgment, more luck than
good judgment, but I mentioned a lot of people said, "You are crazy to go start
a clinic right down their in the head of a big medical center." But it turned
out to be a really great opportunity. We got to know everybody in the Medical
Center and we shared a lot of things with them. They shared things with their
clinic. We just kind of became part of the Medical Center. And at this time,
there was a great expansion in medicine, there was a great expansion in
commerce, Houston was the oil center of the world and we were drilling and doing
oil all over the world. The world was wide open then. Oil companies here had big
offices in Iran, for example. One of my best friends, Albert Maverick, he was a
lawyer with Brown & Root - he spent 1 year in Iran as a lawyer with the
Iranians - he and his wife. A with lot of other people. We would get a call
from, say, Iran, or maybe somewhere in Africa, saying "We have got this
guy injured on the rig. We are putting him on an airplane now. Would you
take care of him? Meet him and get him in the hospital. I mean, we had just
dozens of patients coming in like that from all over the world, and we developed
a huge practice from Latin America. That is something I should mention because
our clinic had the largest Latin American practice of any clinic in the United
States. We used to have 1,000 patients a month come from Mexico. The Pan
American Airline out of Mexico City came in on Sunday night, was called the
Kelsey Seybold Special because it was loaded with people that started out in the
clinic Monday morning. We had 4 presidents of Mexico that have been patients in
our clinic. And one time, we had the wife of the president of Mexico, was going
through our clinic, trying to go through incognito. And we did not even know she
was the wife of the president of Mexico. And some of the patients from Mexico
were out in the waiting room. They all started gathering around and said, "There
is Miss so and so." They uncovered her, so to speak. We developed a number of
people in our clinic where Latin American doctors, they still are . . . we have
got lots of doctors in our clinic of Latin American origin that came to us. When
Castro took over Cuba, 4 doctors from Cuba came and joined our clinic. And Dr.
Taboada is the last one now. He has recently retired.
JP: Any concluding thoughts? I am particularly interested in your opinion of the impact of the Medical Center on Houston.
MK: I believe the Medical Center grew way beyond the expectations of the original people. I know they had big ideas for it but I do not think anyone . . . I think it has got to be a runaway situation, really. I think it is the largest industry in Houston. Maybe. Maybe the shipping, if it is not that, or oil. It is for certain among the top 3 things in Houston. Oil. Now technology is moving in. That is another great industry. But this is just from an economic standpoint. From a cultural standpoint and from the whole medical/health standpoint, the Medical Center is a terrifically important institution. It has become so famous that people come here from all over the world. Medicine is like all other business: it is competition. People up in the east like in Harvard and all, they do not like to give the Texas Medical Center credit for anything. Even Dallas does not want to give them credit! You know, and Dallas, they had 2 or 3 Nobel Prize winners out of Dallas, and we have hired one. And the people in Dallas say, "We don't have to go out and hire Nobel winners. We grow our own!"
JP: Friendly competition.
JP: Do you see limits to how much more the Medical Center can grow in the future?
MK: I have no idea. I feel like there is so much money available, there is just money running out of so many places, I feel like it is causing an undue amount of rapid expansion. And so, you keep wondering what a recession would do, what it would do to the Medical Center. I know it would survive but would it shut down expansion, because nobody knows what the limit is. Then, there is a great field of research, new stuff like all the genome business - that is a new field of medicine that is growing . . . for example, right now, that is a new thing going on in medicine. They found out that peptic ulcer was not just caused by stress. It is also caused by a bacteria. Just a family doctor in Australia was the one that discovered it. It is called Helicobacter pylori. And now, you treat peptic ulcer with an antibiotic for 2 weeks and cure the ulcer. And we were trying to cure it with Maalox and sweet milk. And now, they even think that arteriosclerosis, that all the attacks of coronary occlusion, that it might have been a virus infection of the arteries, and there is a lot of evidence for it. And we had an epidemic of coronary occlusions, and that is when we did a tremendous amount of coronary bypasses here. Denton Cooley was doing 20 every day. They were just doing them everywhere. It has cut way back now. And some people claim that that was a result of infection, some certain infection that got in as an epidemic. And you won't guess what the one is now that is going on. They think morbid obesity is the result of an infection.
There is a major research project going on at Harvard right now and many other places and here is what is happening . . . this background, I mention about infection. It is true about cancer. Since they found out all the genes in the body, some 30,000 genes and genome, human genome found it, and Baylor medical college is one of the leading people that developed it. I guess they probably get as much credit for it as anybody. Take breast cancer. Why is it that some women never get breast cancer and some people are highly susceptible to it? Well, they found out that there are certain genes - it is just well proven. The presence of certain genes in a person's body make them prone to that breast cancer. Colon cancer, certain cases of it. And so, there is a genetic liability, a genetic susceptibility for certain people. Why does smoking . . . most of the people that smoke don't get lung cancer, but why do those get it? Do you see? Well, they proved there are certain genes that you have that prevent or there are certain genes you have that let you get cancer, and some bug or something caused it. And they are beginning to believe these different causes of cancer like irritation, smoking, all kinds of that things. And certain things like obesity is maybe a virus doing it? And they think that . . . an adenovirus. That is a virus that kids have, they get colds and all. They think it was an epidemic of an adenovirus that has caused obesity. Worldwide. And I am not talking about just getting kind of fat. I am talking about this morbid obesity that is uncontrollable. And it is widespread. And that is one of the theories about it. It has been going on and on. Our foundation, the Kelsey Research Foundation, is going to start a research program on one of those items with Baylor medical college about finding a virus for a condition called irritable bowel syndrome. People get these binges where they get diarrhea all the time and they cannot eat a lot of foods, they have cramps. It is the bane of a doctor's existence listening to peoples' bellyaches, as they call it. Well, it is possible that . . . we are learning there are all kinds of new bacteria that infect the bowel. It is possible that this is caused by having a bad episode of that and some people get it and some people don't because those who get it, have the wrong genes. And so, when you research something like that, you have got to find out what the genetic background is as well. You have to have the two together. If you do not have the susceptibility to it, you do not get it, you see.
JP: I am intrigued by listening to a man who just had his 95th birthday, so involved in what is going on today, having been retired for 20 years but still keeping up. And having been such a big part of that whole research impulse, and I remember your remarks in other places about kind of almost nostalgia for the horse and buggy where people had personal care. So, you lived from that era until now where it is highly specialized medical, almost, industry. Do you ever get nostalgic for the old horse and buggy family doctor?
MK: Well, when we were, I call it in our "prime," so to speak, is when this clinic had this huge practice coming in . . . we have contract practice and all that now. But we had this huge practice coming in. Everybody was enjoying that. And all the doctors, we would say among ourselves, "This is the golden age of medicine." And now, we look back and we say, "That was the golden age of medicine." I talked to Ed Singleton. He is the guy I was talking about, the head of Radiology at St. Luke's. He is an old friend of mine and we talked not long ago. That was the golden age of medicine.
JP: I hate to say this aloud but as an historian of the city, I have a feeling that was the golden age of Houston also.
MK: I would not be surprised. Yes.