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Interview with: Russel J. Blattner
Interviewed by: Nancy Lee Rogers, Louis J. Marchiafava
Date: December 3, 1982
Archive Number: OHJ15
NR: This tape was produced on December 3, 1982, by a volunteer of the Junior League of Houston at the Houston Public Library. It is one of a series on the Houston Medical Center. This series is a segment of the Oral History Collection and the Houston Metropolitan Archives at the library. The interviewer is Nancy Lee Rogers and the subject of the interview is Dr. Russel J. Blattner.
I want to thank you, Dr. Blattner, for participating in this program, and I’d like to begin by going over some information on your background.
NR: If you would say a few words, please?
RB: (00:44) I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
NR: Where were you born, Dr. Blattner?
RB: I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, July 3, 1908. I attended the public schools in St. Louis and had the good fortune to attend the Old Central High in St. Louis, which is the oldest high school west of the Mississippi, and it was a school of very high standards and had the advantage of serving parts of St. Louis, which were quite diverse in the social background of the students so that we had a very good cross-section of people in this particular high school since it was the only high school in St. Louis for many years.
After I graduated from high school, I received a scholarship at Washington University and incidentally, it was interesting that my career has centered around the oil industry, as will be brought out a little later, in that I received an Oklahoma City scholarship for my undergraduate work at Washington University, which of course was oil-supported. I started out taking subjects that could lead either to the law degree or to the medical degree since my father wanted law and I wanted medicine. But after I spent two years taking sample subjects of each discipline, I decided on medicine and stayed the full four years and received my A.B. degree from the undergraduate school at Washington, at which time I received a Phi Beta Kappa and was admitted to the Washington University School of Medicine. (02:55) I attended that institution for four years and graduated in 1933, and at that time, I received the honorary Alpha Omega Alpha distinction, which are things that are important to anybody interested in academic work and I think you’d be interested in knowing these things.
I started my first year after I left the medical school, I received my degree in medical school. I decided I wanted to do pediatrics, but in those days, there were very few pediatrics residencies available. In fact, in St. Louis Children’s Hospital, there were only four places open the first year. Two of those four would be eliminated the second year, and the third year, one would be eliminated, so the competition was very difficult. The head of the department at the department of pediatrics at St. Louis Children’s Hospital did not have a place available the year I graduated, but said that if I would spend a year in pathology, he would guarantee me a place in St. Louis Children’s Hospital, so it was my great good fortune to do pathology for a year at Barnes Hospital as resident. It was also by happy circumstance—happy for science but unhappy for the people who contracted St. Louis encephalitis—but it was the first year that St. Louis encephalitis occurred in that area, and I had the opportunity of doing the first postmortem on a fatal case from which the virus of St. Louis encephalitis was isolated and established on monkeys. Subsequently, this subject consumed a lot of my interest and became one of my main research activities through the years.
During this very exciting time, since no one knew what caused encephalitis, no one knew very much about viruses, this was a heady experience for a young physician. My interest in virus disease and in encephalitis continued through the years. Then after I finished the year of pathology, I then went to St. Louis Children’s Hospital and became a resident in pediatrics and had the opportunity of working with—you want all this?
RB: (05:58) A Dr. McKim Marriott, who was the first full-time professor of pediatrics at Washington University and the first physician in sheep who was full time. He also had the distinction of having been a biochemist at Johns Hopkins and took up pediatrics as his special interest because of the all the great advances that were being made in biochemical knowledge of the pediatric subject.
While I was there, Dr. Marriott published the first definitive book on the simplification of infant feeding, which was a landmark since it was a very confused field, and in fact, pediatricians up to that time spent most of their time figuring out formulae and then when Dr. Marriott simplified it by inventing evaporated milk and dextrimaltose and blue-label Karo, anybody could feed a baby successfully if breast milk was not available. This was a very fine experience, to see a difficult subject made so simple in a really very short time.
Another man who was influential in my development was a Dr. Alexis Hartmann, who was also biochemically oriented, and under Dr. Marriott’s tutelage and the tutelage of the head of the medical school, Dr. Philip Shaffer, who was the professor and chairman of biochemistry, Dr. Hartmann made advances in fluid therapy, which is so important in pediatrics, and actually developed what is known as Hartmann’s solution, which has become a standard saline type of restoration of body fluids when babies are dehydrated.
At that particular time, Dr. Hartmann also was making fundamental contributions in arthritis and diabetes. Another man who was outstanding in my memory was Dr. Gene Cooke—Cooke with an “e.” He was a brilliant clinician and also a very gifted laboratory man and helped us a lot in learning how to do cultures and study spinal fluids. And all the things that many technicians do now, the young doctors had to do themselves. I remember one kind of humorous episode in Dr. Cooke’s career. He was very fond of a little dog he brought to work every day, and in those days, as you must know, there was no air conditioning and it was very hot in St. Louis and the little dog would come into the bacteriologic laboratory and would hop into the icebox on the lower shelf to cool off. Dr. Cooke also ate his lunch in this laboratory. He was an excellent bacteriologist, but his lab was not exactly the cleanest one in the world, and I remember one day he showed us a plate—a bacterial plate on which there were colonies of hemolytic streptococcus growing, which is the organization that causes Puerperal sepsis and scarlet fever and tonsillitis, and he said, “Look, isn’t this interesting? Here are all these colonies of bacteria, but here is a mold right in the middle of it and the bacteria are not growing around that mold.” Well, we didn’t know it, but that was penicillin. It was a bread mold which is a penicillin mold, and here we had it right in the palm of our hands and none of us were intellectually prepared to understand what we were seeing. But I always think that’s such an interesting thing because Dr. Cooke would look at that and look at it and I’m sure the germ of an idea was developing, but it never quite came to the surface.
LM: What year was that?
RB: That was about 1935. Of course, penicillin was in the early ‘40s. I always enjoyed pediatrics. I worked very hard. In those days, we had no treatment for anything except diphtheria, which we had anti-toxin. We never cured a single case of pneumococcus meningitis. We cured a few cases of meningococcal meningitis using antisera. Pneumonias came in and it would have to go through their course of seven or eight days, waiting for the crisis to occur, and in the cold weather, they would be put out on the cold porches, thinking they would survive, and some of them got well and some of them died. Some of them got empyema. So it was a time in medicine when you really couldn’t do very much. We had much diarrhea. We didn’t know the cause of it and we saved a number of children with Dr. Hartmann’s solution and with intravenous glucose, which was just coming in at that time, and in that period, we learned how to give transfusions to babies in the scalp vein, which was a very new technique. And of course now everybody does this without thinking, but it was really a monumental advance with these things we now accept as being just easy.
(12:37) The other thing that was very prominent in my memory was the importance of ear infections and many children got chronic, draining ears, and many children got mastoiditis. And from mastoiditis, they got abscesses of the brain and meningitis and they did very elaborate operations on tying off blood vessels, trying to stop the infection from spreading. The sinuses of the brain would become filled with blood clots due to infection, so there was a very trying—disappointing, in a sense—type of work. We never gave up. We always kept working even though some of them got well, but many of them died.
One of the bright spots of my early medical experience was the diagnosis of a brain abscess in a child who had a congenital heart condition, which means there was a hole between the two sides of the heart, and with this particular—in order to get the infection to the brain or the embolism to the brain, usually, it would go to the lung first. But in this case, it would go across this hole and it would go directly without going through the lung to the brain. So we figured this out and made the diagnosis and it was the first time that a brain abscess was diagnosed before death and the first time a patient was operated successfully for a brain abscess and got well.
(14:27) I had the opportunity of hearing a very great clinician who was quite old—must have been about as old as I am now—but his name was Professor Hand—H-a-n-d—who had described the classical condition called Hand-Christian-Schuller Disease, which is still a very well-known condition and it still plagues us, although we’re more successful in treating it now. But Professor Hand had looked up the cases of a brain abscess and was reporting this as the last paper he ever gave at an international meeting, and he said, “I’m very pleased to say that we have in our audience a young man who did thus, and so I repeat what I just said. So I was just thrilled, you see, to have recognition from this previous generation, so I’m just telling you these things because I think they are important in kind of giving you the stimulus to continue on in academic work rather than going into private practice and making a lot of money, which of course is a great temptation when you don’t have any money, which in the ‘30s, not many people had any money, including me.
So I could go on for a long time telling you this, but I can just say that we really had no cures for things. We just simply couldn’t even treat very successfully impetigo, irisyphyllis was very common and you couldn’t treat that, either. They just either have to wait for them to get well at our isolation hospitals were filled with patients with smallpox, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and it was just things that you really couldn’t do very much about, although we were making progress.
Well, we had a very nice connection with Great Britain. Our hospital had an arrangement with the East End Hospital for Children in the East End of London to exchange young physicians, and this was sponsored by the English-Speaking Union and was supported by funds from the Dutch Oil Company. So I, as a chief, I made the gamut from four to two to one and was chief resident and part of my reward was to get this trip to England, which I went in 1936, just about the time when Wally Simpson was having her problems with Edward VIII and I got over there just before Christmas when I know all about Wally Simpson and the people in England knew nothing about it, which had made it rather hard on the arguments between the British residents and the American doctor.
(17:45) Well, I must have been rather vehement because I eventually was called “Sam” after Uncle Sam, so a whole group of doctors know me as Sam rather than Russel, and that name has stuck with the friends. Many of them are still living. I’ve been back to visit them several times.
NR: You returned from England-?
RB: Well, I’m almost finished with that phase. But in England, we had an opportunity of seeing medicine done differently than we’d—an entirely different approach, but the essential thing that I wanted to bring out is that one day, we heard a rumor that a doctor in Germany, a Dr. Doma(??) had a new drug and they were using it in the Queen Charlotte Hospital for maternity care in London and these people who had puerperal sepsis, which was uniformly fatal, were being treated with this new drug, and it was sulfanilamide. So it was the first drug that we had that actually knock out organisms. So in rapid succession, we sulfanilamide, sulfaperidine, sulfadiazine, and we eventually were able to cure meningitis. Pneumonia became a condition that you treated on an out-patient basis. Erysipelis has disappeared from the face of the earth. You just don’t see it anymore. Mastoiditis is an extremely rare disease in Texas Children’s Hospital now because they’re all treated successfully with antimicrobials.
In rapid succession, in the early ‘40s, the miracles of streptomycin, penicillin, a whole group of antibiotics were developed and we began then to be successful in treating all these disease. Polio virus was grown and we got the polio vaccine so that we all—it was a wonderful era to go through medicine from a time when you could do practically nothing, til now we can do so much. There’s still a lot to do, but we can do so much.
Well, when I finished my service at—I don’t know if you want all this?
NR: Yes, please go ahead.
RB: (20:18) And I finished my service at the East End Hospital for Children, which was near the Tower of London in a very exciting part of London, very depressed. It was called Shadwell. It was near Lion House. Commercial Road was a place where they had these open markets and I remember that when I got there for my first Christmas, I got there two days before Christmas. It was all highly reminiscent, of course, of Dickens, and all the things hanging up for sale and so forth, so I really enjoyed my time there and learned quite a bit. Well, with the funds that I got from the Dutch Shell—and I was able to be very careful not spending anything—I was able to get enough money to take a three months’ trip to Europe and came back with $100, which I thought was rather remarkable, for which my father, who met me in New York, was very glad to receive. This was about 1930—end of ’37.
Well, the next phase of my medical work was I needed a job and there was one waiting for me at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, so I became an instructor in the department of pediatrics and engaged in research activity, which I won’t give you too much about that except that we did work on the epidemiology and the clinical manifestations of St. Louis encephalitis and we worked with vaccinia, smallpox, and also many diseases of the central nervous system due to viruses and so forth. (22:12) Well, when I rose from instructor to assistant professor to associate professor and then full professor, and I managed this by the time I was starting my instructorship in 1938, and by the time 1945 rolled around--I guess it was ’43—I became a full professor, and I began at that time looking to expand and become head of a department, which is not uncommon when you get to a certain stage in any career. So I began to look around at places to go, and I was invited to go to the University of Colorado, but found that the political situation there was so bad between the Children’s Hospital and the medical school; I couldn’t face that kind of trauma. The University of Kansas—I would have gone there except that my sister-in-law was married to the Professor of Surgery and I thought that might be a little suggestive of nepotism, so I didn’t go there. North Carolina.
Then in 1945, I was invited to come to Galveston to give some lectures for Dr. Errol Hanson, who was then the head of pediatrics, and on my way to Galveston, I stopped off in Houston and I have a good friend here, Dr. George Salmon, who is important to the Junior League, as I’m sure you will all know. Well, George Salmon had trained in St. Louis and had come down to Houston having married a St. Louis nurse and began teaching in the newly-arrived Baylor College of Medicine; came to Houston in 1943 from Dallas. And this story, I’m sure you’ll get a better story than I can give you, but the thing that impressed me was they had the offer to come to Houston and were invited by the Chamber of Commerce. They took a vote of the faculty in Dallas, and those who wanted to stay in Dallas did and those who wanted to come to Houston came, and they piled all their equipment along with Dean Morrison, who was the Dean, on trucks and came to Houston and set up a medical school in the Sears & Roebuck Warehouse on Buffalo Bayou.
(25:11) Well, in 1945, they had already converted this warehouse into a semblance of a medical unit and they had partitions that didn’t go all the way to the ceiling and the students were looking in microscopes. Some of the faculty were doing research, and one of my old professors in bacteriology, Dr. Burden, was there, doing some work on bacteriology, and I couldn’t help being impressed with the valor of this group to set up a medical school in a city of this kind—a young city. It was very young, medically. We used to get referrals from Houston and from the lower Rio Grande Valley which now nobody would think of taking them out of Harlingen. They’d take care of all things down there now, but in those days they were not able to take care of very simple problems, which they would send up to St. Louis. So I thought about this and I thought this looks like a very likely place. I also was impressed that the money that Dr. Morrison received from the Houston philanthropy—instead of waiting for the war to be over, he went right ahead and started to build the old building—the currently old building—a Baylor Medical School, which is the old post office building which now has the fountain in front of it. But that was just partly finished when I just really—just about one floor was done.
Well, that gave me a sort of courage to think about this as being a very courageous group of people and a very wise group because they were buying the material to build at a very low rate. They were buying all kinds of equipment, which later on was a storehouse for doing research and teaching, and so I thought of this for a while and I investigated as well as I was able to do the economy of Houston, and I was tremendously impressed with the breadth of support that Houston had economically, not just oil but agriculture and cattle and the ship channel and sulfur and all the things that Houston had then and of course, has now. But it wasn’t that developed in those days. The Medical Center itself—the only building that was in use in the Medical Center was the old Spanish-type building of Hermann Hospital which sits on the corner across from Hermann Park, and it is really a beautiful little building, and that is where most of the clinical teaching was done.
NR: This was in 1945?
RB: (28:24) No. I’m sorry. I skipped a beat. I thought about this for two years and then I was asked to come down and visit, but I came in 1947. I skipped a beat there. It was in 1947. I finally made up my mind and I came here July 1, 1947. But the Medical Center didn’t have—the medical school didn’t have any affiliation with any hospital. They never had a formal affiliation with Hermann. The Junior League was very important to me because they had moved from their downtown quarters and set up the Junior League Clinic in the Hermann Hospital and already had a clinic going. So the Board of Hermann invited me to become chairman—head of their department of pediatrics as well as being chairman at Baylor, and this was—they could not do it officially with the Medical School because they had no affiliation, but I had to have faith in old Dr. Jake Park, who was the first—he and Dr. Greer—David Greer—were the two main pediatricians in the community. There were a number of others, but they stood out. But Dr. Park said if I would take the job, he would see I was appointed to the chairmanship—to the head of pediatric unit at Hermann Hospital. So my first years in Houston—oh, I must tell you about the Medical Center. It was a swamp. You’d have to go in with boots and there was a stream going through the Medical Center and there was a suspension bridge that you had to walk across to get from the medical school building to the Hermann Hospital.
[End of Audio 1]
BR: (00:08) So since there were no pediatric teaching beds in the medical center other than at Hermann Hospital, it was very important that we’d start our program there and I have always admired Hermann very much for giving us the support when we needed it. I brought down with me a very fine Ph.D. biologist, Dr. Florence M. Heys—H-e-y-s—who had been doing research work with me in St. Louis, so we continued our research here. We also had Dr. George Salmon, who decided to go into practice but who continued to teach. We had the valuable assistance of the practicing doctors who did many of our lectures, and Dr. Joseph Stool(??), who was a practicing doctor who was sort of half-time in academic work who helped us a great deal with teaching.
So with that staff, we were able to recruit two residents and all of us ran the program, which was about 25 or 30 beds at Hermann, with two house officers, and of course, eventually, medical students. We had no facilities for student teaching of laboratory work, but we did have a commode in the room just off of the pediatric ward which we built a table around it and had running water and did our white counts, blood counts, urinalyses, stool examinations all over this table, which was built over a commode. And we did really quite creditable diagnosis and had a number of referrals and had one patient—this may be personal, but I don’t think they would mind. I had one patient who was referred to me by Dr. Park who was thought to have leukemia because she had a lot of the symptoms of leukemia with a high white count and all the things that everybody knows about now. (02:39) Well, it was my good fortune that this child did not have leukemia, but had kissing disease. The name—I can’t think of it at the moment.
RB: Mono. Infectious mononucleosis. And this child happened to be one of the Sakowitz children, so we had a firm support from the Sakowitz people and it’s the daughter whose name escapes me-.
RB: This was a very great feather in the cap of the new chairman of the department of pediatrics because to be able to save a child who had been considered in those days as Thomas Molinov(??), everybody knew everybody else and it got around that I wasn’t so dumb, that kind of thing, so it certainly helped us a lot in support.
Now, the Junior League, I can’t say too much in favor of that clinic because they provided funds for us to have indigent patients. They had the Memorial Fund, for example. And Francis Hyke, who had been working in the Junior League at that time, served half-time as the Junior League representative in the Junior League Clinic and half-time as my secretary, and we functioned reasonably well with that kind of a dual appointment and Francis is still going strong here at Texas Children’s, as I’m sure you know.
(04:27) Well, about this time, a very important thing was happening in Houston which I knew about, and that was the Texas Children’s Foundation, and this was organized primarily by Mr. Leopold Meyer and a number of prominent doctors—Dr. Greer, the wife of one of the first chancellors of Rice; I have these blocks—anyway, these were all very interested prominent people who met about once every week, once every two weeks to discuss getting a children’s hospital, and they called themselves the Texas Children’s Foundation. Well, the first support that they got actually was from the Junior League who put on the first horse show for the Horse Show Association and the Junior League put that on and the proceeds from that horse show went into the Texas Children’s Foundation’s coffers.
NR: That was in what year?
RB: This is what you’ll have to look up. It’s a whole bunch of clippings which are stored over in the library here, and I can’t remember all those dates. But those you can easily find. It was around—well, I would say it was around ’46 or something like that they had their first horse show. Well then when I arrived July 1, 1947, the foundation had already developed sufficiently that I was invited to come to the meetings and discuss a children’s hospital and what it would mean and what a children’s hospital really was, and Mr. Abercrombie, who was the main financial supporter of the whole scheme, was told by Mr. Meyer, as Mr. Meyer used to say he was good at spending Mr. Abercrombie’s money. So Mr. Abercrombie and Mr. Meyer asked me if I would take an extended trip with the architect, Mr. Foley Martin, and see all the children’s hospitals of note in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. This was in the fall of ’47--I just got here—and I thought it was a grand opportunity and they wanted to hire me to do this, and although I didn’t have any money, I went to talk to the dean. I said, “I don’t think I should be hired to do something like this. I think that’s much too cheap. I’m worth more than that. It isn’t the money, but I’m worth more than that, I said, to spend three months of my first year in a new job doing this travel. I wouldn’t do it, but I would do it for nothing if I would be a member of the team, and if I’d be a member of the Texas Children’s Foundation. So evidently, this impressed the businessmen quite much and they decided that I would be a member of the Texas Children’s Foundation and that I would be an official person of the planning group. So far more than I made a [inaudible] of this trip of all the fine children’s hospitals in the country and took pictures of every place we went, pictures of outpatient departments, wards, all kinds of equipment. In Mexico City, they had a beautiful hospitale infantile, which since was destroyed by an earthquake, but at that time, it was the latest in hospital construction. We went to the wonderful Toronto Children’s; Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital in Boston; Philadelphia.
(08:57) So we came back then with a whole collection of pictures and notes of the latest in pediatric facilities, and on the basis of this material, we prepared a plan for the first phase of Texas Children’s Hospital. At that time, Mr. Abercrombie was very much concerned about the expense of a children’s hospital. Actually, he was a very shrewd financier because a children’s hospital standing alone is one of the most expensive hospitals you can build, so he had it in his mind that we could probably do better if we would share the children’s hospital with another hospital, sort of join in the expenses. The obvious one was to try to do it with Hermann, but that was impossible. The Hermann Foundation was so conservative that they would not consider this at all, and in fact, they never did have an affiliation, formerly, with Baylor. Well then, the second thought was possibly we could tie up with the Shrine Crippled Children, which sounded like a wonderful idea, and they would hear nothing of it. They wouldn’t have anything to do with it, and Mr. Abercrombie was very—I’ve never seen him angry, but he was angry at that time at the attitude of how they felt, and he said, “Well, I wouldn’t want to be with them anyway.” He wouldn’t have anything to do with them.
The Episcopalian Diocese about that time was talking about building a hospital and they got together, and the two boards--by that time, it was all pretty well formalized. We had plans for a children’s hospital and we were really ready to build, but Abercrombie was afraid to do it alone, so they worked out some very complicated but I thought very effective plans to have either St. Luke’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital each separate and identified as entities, but then there was a connecting link, and in the connecting link, there was x-ray, business administration, nursing administration, record room—all of this could be shared. The expenses could be shared, which would save a great deal of money. We did insist on our own laboratory because the laboratory at the children’s hospital is unique as compared with an adult hospital.
I also had in the back of my mind that eventually—and this has not happened yet, but I think it will—eventually, we will be able to follow an individual from the moment of conception through the antenatal period, through delivery into the newborn period and into the children’s age group, and then when they get to be adolescents, it could be a ward connecting the adolescent unit, one foot in children’s and one foot in St. Luke’s and that could be a comingling of the disciplines of the adult and the children’s doctors together in this adolescent problem, which you know is one of our biggest problems, unsolved in many instances. But I think you could have, eventually, a record of an individual, and you could see when a child had scarlet fever or had a strep throat at the age of eight, what happened to that woman, if she had nephritis when she had her first baby, or if she had German measles, as we found out subsequently in the first trimester, but what happened to that baby at birth and what would happen to it developmentally and how would it ever make the gap through adolescence into adult life if they did and so forth.
(13:29) So that was the solution to the problem Mr. Abercrombie had in the back of his mind and Mr. Leopold Meyer, so they then proceeded to make plans for St. Luke’s, the connecting link, and Children’s, and the building started and as far as I was concerned personally, it was one of the most unique opportunities that any individual has had to build a children’s hospital de novo from the ground up without having had preceding old houses and places where people had a half-cocked children’s unit and eventually they became children’s hospitals. But this was a chance to build a children’s hospital full-blown, so to speak, right from the ground up, and I’ve always appreciated that opportunity.
NR: How was the site for the hospital determined?
RB: This was a lot of negotiations went on with the Texas Medical Center, and they finally decided on this area, and they also were able to get this angle out here, which they still have which goes out toward the Shamrock, but there was a lot of politics that went on all through this period, and I’m not competent to tell you how the decisions were all made. But they would have arguments about what was the best and so forth and I think we got a very, very good deal.
(15:04) Well, the Children’s Hospital was finally opened and again, the date—it was 1955, I believe it was. At any rate, you can check on that. So we opened the Children’s Hospital formally and we had our first patients and we had the problem that we had a beautiful new outpatient department, but we had our children’s outpatient department at Hermann. So it took quite a bit of diplomacy to convince Dr. Lee Crozier, who was the head of Hermann—you remember the names—Lee Crozier to permit us to do this, and he was a very sensible man. He knew it was right, so we made the—and he needed the hospital—Hermann Hospital needed the Junior League prestige in the community, so we decided we would have a model well-baby clinic, which we would continue to run at Hermann if the Junior League could be moved over to the new Junior League outpatient department. And I agreed to continue to run the program at Hermann—the pediatric program with Dr. Joe Stool as the head of it.
So then eventually, Baylor got affiliation with the City County Hospital and so then our pediatric program had a very excellent foundation in that it had a children’s hospital where you have difficult, unusual cases and research cases; where you had the City County Hospital with the great volume of sick children, where the students can really still get a lot of their experience. We developed the Halbouty Nursery in St. Luke’s where Dr. Reba Hill has developed a very good premature unit which eventually all of these things developed into intensive care and all the things that happened. And also, along this line, Methodist came into the picture and Methodist, which used to be just a little old hospital downtown, moved out and built this very fine structure in the Medical Center. While they were down at the old place, this was in the early ‘50s, the Methodist Hospital wanted to do something in pediatrics because they had the Bluebird Circle at the First Methodist Church who have been doing orthopedic work but they were no longer needed at the Shrine Hospital, so they were an organization in search of a project. So I made the suggestion at discussing with Ms. Josie Roberts, who was also an excellent person, she was the head administration at Methodist—they thought they would like to do something in—and I said, “I would suggest that we’re having a lot of cases of epilepsy and we really need to take care of those children,” and we had Dr. Peter Calloway here, who is an EEG specialist, who had just come from Montreal. So to make a long story short, the women did not like the name “epilepsy,” but they liked “The Clinic for Neurologic Disorders,” so they had—they were very smart because it’s a wonderful name because they have now expanded to every phase of neurology. So the Bluebird Clinic then was started down in a lean-to—just a temporary structure over by the old Methodist. Well, then when they moved out to the new Methodist, the Bluebird Clinic then expanded to this beautiful new setting, and I think I’m going to save five minutes and save this. People would be critical of it, possibly, but we were seeing all kinds of children—black and white and Chinese and everything else—at the old place, but when they moved out to the new place, they said they couldn’t see black children, and I said, “Well—“
LM: Who said that? I’m sorry.
RB: (19:33) The hospital. The Bluebird Circle and the hospital did not want to see black children, and so this was very hard on all of us and I said, “This simply isn’t possible. We’re taking care of these children and you cannot differentiate between black and white when it comes to children’s diseases.” So we had a meeting—Bluebird, so one man and about 20 women out in a very lovely home out in River Oaks and we were going to discuss the subject, and the discussion finally got around and one of them asked me, “What would you do-?” I have two sons—“What would you do if they wanted to put your child in with a colored child?” and I said, “Well, I would say I’d read what you have up there: “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” while the tears got on the floor and they said, “Okay, we’ll do it.” So what they did then was build a separate room which was going to be for colored children, and it happened that we had a Chinese worker—Dr. Dora Child, who is still here, who was pregnant—and it turned out that that little separate room was never used for that purpose. They saw the light. But she used it for the nursery for little Mae Sue, which was her baby, when she was working. Mae Sue used this little room, but all these things to me are quite amusing as the years have passed. These things happen and maybe people don’t like to remember it, but they did happen and they were critical things that decisions had to be made. Well then, so then we have the Bluebird Clinic at Methodist which gave us that; we had the Children’s Hospital, we had the Junior League Clinic, we have the City County Hospital, which now has a hospital district tax which has given them money that they can do things. They have extension clinics and they are really doing a bang-up job considering what facilities they had. And we had at St. Luke’s the Premature Halbouty Unit in the newborn section, and then we had Hermann Hospital, and I continued to be the head of pediatrics and rotated residents through Hermann Hospital and took care of their program. We would alternate. You’d have conferences one week here, one week at City County, and one week at Hermann until Rod Howell came, who was the new Head of Pediatrics, which was six or eight years ago. But I kept it going til Rod Howell came and then he moved in, of course, and now all that magnificent University of Texas unit had evolved from that rather simple beginning.
(22:31) Well, let’s see. What else do you want to know about me?
NR: Excuse me, Dr. Blattner. The funding for Texas Children’s was eventually established?
RB: The funding was mainly Mr. Abercrombie would underwrite lot, and the horse show every year, all the proceeds go to that.
NR: They still go?
RB: They still go.
LM: That’s the Pin Oak?
NR: The Pin Oak Horse Show.
RB: The Pin Oak Horse Show, and when it used to be out there on Pin Oak, the old one was of course a bunch more romantic than the new one. That’s too bad, but that’s the way things happen. And there were donations, and of course, they had a lot of private patients and although it isn’t proper, maybe, ethically, practically, the private patients did support some of the free patients. And again, I cannot give you all the details of this because I never really tried to enter into that aspect of it. I thought that was not my purpose. I was there to take care of the children and to do teaching and to do research and not to be fundraising. And we also got donations from the Junior League and the Memorial Fund, so there were a lot of funds that were pouring in, but we had a very hard time with finances and I don’t know all the details but I am pretty sure that we got the joined facility—we paid maybe 40 percent and St. Luke’s paid 60 percent, because we did not have the income, and I think that has been true through the years. I think it’s changing now, possibly. But we got great benefit from the Episcopalian support because they had a church behind them. They had a whole diocese behind them. We didn’t have anybody but the Board, you see, and the Junior League.
(24:42) So gradually, then, one of my jobs was to let people know we had a unit down here. This was never a pediatric center, so I spent a lot of my time traveling and going around to different meetings and recruiting residents and letting them know what we had here, and the war ended at the right time for all of us because many of those residents came back from the service and wanted to get training and many of them worked down at Brooke Army. I was consultant for the Army and used to go to Brooke Army once a month. I got some of my very best full-time staff people from that connection. One of my very dear friends of many years—it was a fellow resident had become head of pediatrics down there at Brooke Army at San Antonio, so that we were able to by all these circumstances build up a department rather quickly and with very good people.
Well, gradually we took on more residents, and they’re expensive. We got up to 30 and then up to 40 and now, it’s over 100, by last count. And of course, Dr. Feigin has expanded a lot of things since he came here five years ago. Now, I would say that then the development was making this place known so that people would want to come here, and also we had the advantage that the training program was exemplary because we had indigent private research experience. So very quickly, it became known as one of the best children’s training centers. I’m not talking years—years later, in the country.
NR: You do feel that it has met the projections that were reachable?
RB: Oh, beyond. Beyond. Some of the things are really—you can hardly believe of what happened in the Medical Center alone and in the Children’s Hospital also. I think it’s fulfilled every bit of its promise and way beyond what anybody could imagine.
Well then, the other thing that we had to do in the early ‘50s, we had a great deal of polio and the Lamar Flemings—it was a very famous name in those days, a very fine couple. They were British, but they were real Texans—and they had given a unit at the old Jefferson Davis for rehabilitation, and about that time, we had so many polios, so many tank cases in adults that we had no place to put them. The department of medicine would have nothing to do with polio, so the department of pediatrics had to take on not only the children, but the adults.
[End of Audio 2]
RB: (00:03) So we took on the responsibility for polio, adults and children, and that was a big deal, but it was a great source of support because at that time, the National Foundation had a great deal of money. It was the first big fund-raising group, so they did an awful lot to help us get equipment and along with all the people who worked there—and I won’t mention all of them, but I will mention one person, Dr. William Spencer, who I had met at Brooke Army and had gone up to Kansas as part of his military assignment—and he happens to be a person who is very bright. I heard him give a discussion one time at Brooke Army which just sold me on his intellect. So I kept in touch with him, and he also was very good at electronics and all that kind of business, so we brought him here and put him in charge of the polio unit. And with this Southwest Respiratory Center, which actually, in time, was the first one in the country—now, we gave priority to Helen Hayes in Boston because her daughter, Mary MacArthur had died of polio. So we gave them the chance to be number one, but we really were, in fact, so we were number two.
Well, as the years went by, Dr. Spencer got deeply interested in all the rehabilitation of these people and got some of these adults who were in iron lungs back to their homes, and was able to develop in the old Pauline Sterne Wolff building, which is now destroyed by the new freeway—that was the Pauline Sterne Wolff Foundation, which Mr. Taub was the head of. Well, they’ve made these very nice buildings that they had built for rheumatic fever, and rheumatic fever was on the out, you see, and so Bill Spencer and our group had a halfway house at the Pauline Sterne Wolff, and he developed the concept of how you get the people out of the hospital, into a semi-living capacity, then into the home. And from that beginning, the Southwest Polio Respiratory Center was built, and Dr. Spencer is now the Head of that, which is really an exemplary rehabilitation unit. It’s really I think one of the best in the country and he’s still head of it.
(03:02) But all of this started out, you see, from the department of pediatrics’ interest in polio, which I think is kind of interesting people just don’t know about that. If we follow through on this same idea of how you develop people, we have a man whose name is very important now, Dr. Carlos Valbona, a Spaniard. He came here to work in the department and was with us oh, I don’t know, ten years, and he got the idea that we really needed to do something socioeconomically, and he wanted to go into community medicine. So they created a new Department of Community Medicine. He was a pediatrician and he developed the Department Of Community Medicine and Family Practice and he is the one, along with his associates, have developed these satellite clinics which are scattered all over the city to take care of the indigent so that they don’t all have to flock in for the very narrow confines of the sick baby clinic at the Ben Taub, which is just overloaded.
So that we’re very proud of what Carlos has done, and now out of a community medicine, family practice is now a separate department, and as you know this, this is really enjoying great attention, great growth in the training of doctors who take care of the total patient, of holistic care in contrast to specialist care.
Now, along the line, all of us were interested in developing subspecialists, and we had problems about that and one early problem that we had in our whole training program was that at one time, we did not have enough training in the subspecialties to attract people or to train them, and even our residents didn’t get certain things that they should be getting because we didn’t have the facilities. So through the Jessie Jones and the Mary Gibbs Jones Fellowship, money was made available to send people up to Boston Children’s, and Dr. Charles Janeway, who was the head of that hospital, a man whose father was Professor of Medicine at Hopkins and had a long line of distinction in his family—very intelligent man, he and with him a good friend of mine, too, and he proved it because he permitted our residents to go up to Boston with this Jessie Jones money—Fellowship money—to go for two or three months or six months or a year, to learn, and then come back. So the idea was we’d pick out likely people like Dr. Fernbach, who is now the head of our cancer/leukemia unit, which is now known all over. Well, Dr. Fernbach was sent up to Boston to work under Dr. Sidney Farber and Dr. Lou Diamond and learn the trade of doing hematology and then came back here and established it.
(06:43) In the meantime, another important thing that happened in as far as Houston Medical Center is concerned, is that right after the war and in the early ‘50s, there was this great interest in research so that there was money that was available by working out a research project and we were able to get enough money—and it wasn’t really quite right because they would not support medical education—but we would ask for more money than we needed to do the research project but use the money to pay for the people who were doing the research, which was honest enough but really nationally they should have recognized and supported medical education.
Well anyway, about that time, the cancer chemotherapy came into its own under the leadership of Dr. Sidney Farber at Boston, and they divided up the country into districts and there was a great deal of money available and this was called “the Cancer Chemotherapy Study,” and I pretended I was a hematologist and oncologist for a couple of years until Dr. Fernbach could come and I used to attend the meetings and I knew enough about it but I wasn’t an expert. So then when Dr. Fernbach came, then he was able to start what is now a very good children’s cancer center, and you know you’ve heard about the McDonald House and all of that is a growth from that beginning. Dr. Rudolph, who is now the head of our neonatology unit, he’s from South Africa, originally, but we got to know him through Dr. Desmond, who is the head now of the Meyer Developmental Center and he was interested in coming and he came down and this turned out to be a very stellar performance and new neonatology. And from all of that, the intensive care units and all this has evolved—things we never dreamed of.
Well, through this Jessie Jones money, which was not that much money, we did train our residents by giving them that additional training. We sent some to Chicago, some to Hopkins and eventually, as years passed, the shoe was on the other foot and they would send their residents down to Houston to get experience that they didn’t have the volume of patients that we had, so it was a very interesting evolution about how they helped us in a special way and then and now that we’re helping them in a very special way.
(09:45) Now, we got a lot of research grants funded. We got our Clinical Research Center, which is still here, still funded, and that’s the center that’s supporting the boy in the intensive—in the germ-free environment. So all of those things, one thing leads to another and develops and developed and NASA has stepped in and made him suits and I’m just trying to point out that all these things are highly pragmatic and highly—they’re sequential because they just happened to fall together if you see and if you’re ready to accept the challenge.
Well, Dr. McNamara, who has one of the very best cardiology centers, was one of our residents—one of our interns at Irma who trained at St. Louis Children’s, where I trained. He went to Hopkins and learned about cardiology and we had $20,000 given to us by the Houston Heart Society and we bought equipment for him and he came down and started the cardiology center which now is just with the help of Cooley and Company is unsurpassed.
My own research dealt mainly with infectious disease, but when Dr. Martha Yow came, who was an infectious disease person, I gave up a lot of that and went over into what we call teratology, which is abnormalities, and it was again circumstance that was inconceivable. We were developing all of this and then rubella comes along, see? So it was right in this—it’s just amazing how these things just seem to follow each other. And so my research with the help of Dr. Heys and Dr. Taylor and Mrs. Williamson—a whole bunch of people—we were able to keep up on the research scene as well as on the academic, which is quite a feat to accomplish. Well, I think then the department and the medical center began growing so fast they covered over that bayou which had separated Hermann from Baylor—the one we used to walk across, that little bridge, that suspension bridge—and parenthetically, the river didn’t forget its course because it was just a few years ago, the river decided it was going to go right through Methodist Hospital along its own course, so they had to realize that nature hadn’t forgotten where that water went.
NR: That was the flood of ’77?
RB: (12:56) That was the flood. That was the flood, but the water went right where the old bayou used to be. Well anyway, I thought those were all interesting things to think about. As the department grew and every subspecialty was represented--genetics, hematology, cardiology, you just name it--well then I also must have had the Dr. DeBakey is one of the people in this Medical Center who just cannot be ignored. He is really a very brilliant man. I have great admiration for him. But he was in New Orleans—backtracking a little—and I came and in ’47 and we heard about Dr. DeBakey being interested in coming in this direction and I remember the parties we had for him and when I’d be all, “I wish he would come,” and so forth and so forth. And so he held out for a while, and so finally he decided to come in 1948.
Well, he came along with his three boys and his pregnant wife. He was expecting number four, so the number four boy was delivered in Houston at the old St. Joe’s Hospital, and I was nervous enough as it was to have the DeBakey’s child, and of course, they made it clear that I was going to take care of all the faculty children, which I did, including the DeBakey. And the baby was born in St. Joe, and by golly, it got diarrhea—the most severe diarrhea you could ever imagine, and I investigated down there and they were warming the bottles in the same sink where they were washing the diapers, and well, I really shouldn’t say that, but anyway, they won’t hear about it, I guess. I hope they don’t. Just blank that out. But anyway, Dr. DeBakey’s child almost died. We moved it to Hermann and I’ve never seen DeBakey afraid of anything except that particular moment and we pulled the kid through and he’s now a young adult and just fine, but that was—I could imagine the headlines: “New Professor of Pediatrics Loses Son” or “New Professor of Surgery!” But anyway, that was a very trying period in my life and I realized how very primitive we were in how we took care of that child with fluids and all and finally brought it through.
(15:44) And the other side issue on this DeBakey deal is that when Dr. DeBakey came, there were just two offices finished and there was an examination room in between which the two offices shared. I had one and he had the other, and we would have to use the same examining table, so I often tell people my main claim to fame is that DeBakey and I shared the same examining table. And we used to have a lot of arguments because he wouldn’t clean up and I’d have to do the cleanup and he’d say, “I give you psychiatric care when you need it. You can help clean up!” So we had a very happy—we often talk about that. Weird days. You hardly believe that they ever happened.
Well, then Dr. DeBakey, I must say, did a great deal to foster the fiscal aspects of Baylor. I mean, there was just no question about it. A lot of people contributed, but he really has been a great leader.
LM: In what way, precisely?
RB: (16:56) Well, for one thing, he is a marvelous surgeon. The second thing is he has a personal contact with patients that nobody can understand til you see him functioning. He can just go in the room, just put his hand on a patient who’s been operated on and the person just smiles. And I had one—at the time I remember episode, we went over to give some talk, Dr. DeBakey and I, at Lafayette, Louisiana, and he went to sleep all the way over; had a big steak, went to sleep, and we were to give some lectures the next day, but on the way to the hotel where we were staying, a former resident of his from Tulane said he had a man with a very serious obstruction of the blood vessels to the lower extremities. And as you know, he invented this Dacron replacement business, so we went out to see this man.
DeBakey worked him up. The man—the doctor had him worked up well. He had him scheduled for surgery at seven o’clock the next morning. He did the operation, came and gave his lectures, did a clinical pathological conference. After the conference was over, which was about five o’clock, we went back to see this old geezer. It was an old Cajun, and this man just looked at DeBakey and he said, “Oh, Dr. DeBakey, my legs are warm for the first time in years and it’s wonderful!” He said, “You know, you did some things here for us before,” and Dr. DeBakey shook his head. He said, “You operated on my daughter’s congenital heart.” Nobody in that meeting knew that he had done this operation. He didn’t tell anybody. Of course, I didn’t tell anybody. But I think this is one quality that I think people maybe don’t know about. He has this real capacity for transmitting feeling to people and expressing feeling, although he has a bad reputation with some people—the students and his resident, he’s pretty hard on them. I think the other thing in his capacity was that he made friends with all different kinds of people, particularly people with money, and they were firm friendships and they held up. He was very close to Mr. Taub—Mr. Ben Taub—we’d call him “Uncle Ben.” Well, Uncle Ben ran the old Jefferson Davis Hospital, and DeBakey and Mr. Taub would make rounds every Sunday morning. They kept the place all cleaned up—beautiful. Monday it would just be a mess, but on Sunday morning, it all looked beautiful, and DeBakey would make rounds with Mr. Taub.
And then there were other people that he got very close to—the names that you know, the well-known. The Weiss family. You can just name them. And presidents, Mr. Johnson, and he was in the main swim where it counted. He got the first clinic—we got the first clinical research center at Children’s. I beat him out on that. Oh, he hated that. I just beat him by a couple of months. But he got the first cardiovascular center in the United States established over in Methodist. We got the first nutrition center; the only children’s nutrition center for the whole United States here at Children’s and Baylor. So these are the things that he did so very well and he operated on many, many prominent people, and as I understand the details, he would not send a bill. More or less, what is your life worth? This guy made out $10 million and naturally, I’m sure he built up his foundation by this very clever way of doing it.
(21:17) I think the other thing that he does very well: he expresses himself very well in the shortest possible words. He can condense things absolutely in the least possible words. I think recently there was an ad against smoking, and he said something about—I think the only thing he had was, “Smoking hurts you.” It was just—I don’t remember [inaudible] but it was just perfect. So all these things, I think, entered into his prestige and his influence. Now, I think if we’re going to be complete about this, we have to say that he’s not the easiest person to get along with. He’s very self-centered and egocentric and when Dr. Denton Cooley came from Johns Hopkins, all prepared with Blalock’s training and so forth, they worked over at Methodist for a while. I had some patients that Coolie would do, DeBakey would do at Methodist. I saw patients only in consultation, and that’s another thing. I never had a private practice, and this was a very important thing because we didn’t permit our people to have the wealthy families. This would be very easy to pick out the people with money—but we made it a rule that we did not have private practice. We’d see things in consultation and always refer them back.
There was a time when patients were said to be lost in the halls of Baylor, which was very bad. That was in other departments, not pediatrics. My only private patients were Henry Taub’s kids, Mr. Ben Taub’s nephews and children, and Mr. Taub just said, “You have to do it,” so I did. That was my private practice, and they kept it with the DeBakey kids and the Taub kids; the department was kept busy all the time because I was traveling a lot, giving speeches and so forth, and it just was really a departmental project to take care of those seven kids.
NR: Had you ever planned to go into private practice?
RB: (23:49) Only as a consultant. I loved to see patients and I saw a lot of them, but I did some private practice in St. Louis during the Depression to make a living because we weren’t paid enough to live on, so we had to see private patients in the evening and on Saturday and Sunday to make up the difference.
Well, to get back to this brief statement about Dr. Coolie, it soon became apparent there wasn’t room for both of them in Methodist Hospital, so they agreed for Coolie to come over to St. Luke’s and Dr. DeBakey to be—so I continued to be friends with both of them. It didn’t bother me at all that their personal enmity. It doesn’t worry me. But I tried to refer patients—children’s patients—to Dr. DeBakey at Children’s Hospital and he saw some for a year or two, and the finally, he said, “Russ, I really would rather not see children over there.” He said, “Why don’t you have Denton see them?” So then Denton saw all of our children, and then, as you know, it’s history. The Heart Institute sprung up and that has become extremely valuable to us because he does all of our children and he really does the impossible. His technique is just unbelievable. You see him working down in that little bloody hole of a baby with a heart about this big, you just don’t know how he does it, but he is just gifted. I guess he’s the best technician in the world, I would think. And now, these are all maybe irrelevant as far as you’re concerned, but the money that Mrs. Abercrombie gave is centered in pediatric cardiology and that was very much with Dr. Cooley’s suggestions. And now he has—and Dr. McNamara in his group—have very good physiologist and just recently they have discovered a condition which is called Wolf-Parkinson-White, which is a very serious condition in that the impulse from the upper part of the heart slips through a little bundle called the “bundle of Kent” into the main part of the heart—the ventricle—and you get a lot of dysrhythmias. It’s very difficult to control. Well, with the help of the physiology studies, they are able now to see where the bundle of Kent is and they tell Dr. Cooley where it is and he just cuts it and these patients are cured. See, those are just little side-issues that again, all these things evolve. I can’t explain it any other way. It’s taking opportunities and doing things and you just never know where it’s going to lead and I think this has been a wonderful example that we wouldn’t have the fine pediatric cardiology without Dr. Cooley and his staff. Cooley and his staff would not have the diagnostic capacity if McNamara and his group. See, these are all things just sort of evolved.
(27:14) Now, talking about myself, and I think I’m talking much too long for your purposes, but I’m almost at the end. I was honored at Washington University. I received the Alumni Citation, which is one of their biggest honors here, in 1956, and I was very pleased with that. And then I was awarded the Jacobi Award, which is given by the AMA in recognition of my contribution to American medicine, and that—I think [inaudible] but anyway, you could find that out easily enough. But anyway, I’m just telling you and that is something that I have felt was very nice, to get the Jacobi Award in recognition of a one-generation hospital, which is what it really amounts to. Now, as I approached 65, I was not ready to retire and Dr. DeBakey and I are the same age, and I have my plan all made that if I was made to retire, I was going to say, “Well, now, what about Mike?” You see, he’s the same age, and I know they couldn’t fire him. Well, it never came up. They let me continue on til I was 70, which is very unusual to be allowed to stay on as chairman til you’re 70. So it’ll be five years next July that I will have stepped down.
Well, my successor was sought all over the country and with no influence from me, Dr. Ralph Feigin was chosen, who had his training at St. Louis Children’s Hospital where I had had my training. And so, in a sense, there has been a continuity of policies and things, I’m sure he brings a lot of different ideas.—young ideas—but where you’re trained and Children’s Hospital and Washington University was an offspring of Johns Hopkins, was the first full-time school west of the Mississippi. Well anyway, that’s been a very happy circumstance as far as I’m concerned.
And so when I reached 70, the hospital board said they would like to make some arrangement, but part of the arrangement would be that I’d be away for the first nine months, a new man came, so that I wouldn’t interfere. I wouldn’t have, I’m sure, but it would be natural. Businessmen would think this wouldn’t be right, so they agreed—they gave me a contractual arrangement whereby I worked for five more years til I’m 75. But the first part of it would be a trip around the world for nine months so that I wouldn’t be—well, it was six months and then I came home and moved over three months. But at any rate, that worked out very well and so I’ve been doing continuing education here with the help of Mrs. Throwley, who does most of the work. But then I have decided that then as July first comes around, I will no longer be paid for continuing education. That’s the end.
[End of Audio 3]
RB: (00:07) So I had a former resident who was the head of the maternal and child health in the Houston Department of Health, so I talked to her and said I would like to work in the clinic, so as a result, I’m working two-and-a-half days a week for the Houston Health Department and I probably will continue doing this as well-child supervision and you see babies up to the age of five-and-a-half, pick up congenital hips or hearts and refer them, immunization and all that, which I enjoy very much because I got my hand back into doing pediatrics because pushing papers around is different than examining babies. So that my current plan is to continue when I quit this job next July 1, I will continue to do well-baby work for two-and-a-half days a week.
The current head of the—I’m telling you all of these personal things because I think they’re interesting for how things develop. The current head of the Health Department is Dr. Judith Craven. She’s just resigned. She’s going to be the Dean of the Paramedical at UMT. But she was the first black woman to graduate from Baylor and so she knew me, of course, and one day I met her and she said, “You know, you’re very important to me,” and I said, “Well, sure, you’re in medical.” She said, “No, I don’t mean that.” She said, “You wrote a letter of recommendation for my dentist husband when he was trying to get into the University of Texas years ago,” and I had forgotten this, but before she ever met him, you see, I had written this letter for him to get into dental school, so that I had a double-barrel, you see. Now I don’t know whether I have any barrel, because she’s stepping down.
Well, then along that same line—along with that—I’m no crusader, but what you write is right. There were no black residents in our program for a long time, and finally, there was a man who was qualified for pediatric residency that came from Washington, D.C., the colored—black medical school. The head of pediatrics I knew quite well, so he was recommended, actually, by Mr. Taub. Whatever the connection was, I don’t know; and DeBakey. But the board would not have him as a resident because he was black, so then I accepted him. I said, “He has all the qualifications.” So Mr. Taub paid his salary and he was the first black resident we had in the Houston program, and now—and women knew, they were out on a limb—now we have any number of women and black in that whole era—it’s almost you can’t believe that it happened, and this is not for publication. (03:48) I’m just telling you that here again that you have to make a stand when it was right, so that opened the door and he proved to be a very good man. His name was Clarence Higgins. He and his wife were very active in the sickle-cell foundation and it’s a very well accepted pediatrician in Houston. So that is my story, more or less.
Now, do you have any particular lines that you would want developed? This is what I just remember, this off the top of my head.
NR: Where there any other areas that we haven’t touched on that you feel would be important concerning your career?
RB: Well, I think that personally, I think that the development of St. John’s and Kincaid were very important to me because Mr. Chensey(??) started St. John’s just about the time I was starting the department of pediatrics and we became very good friends, and he would refer problem cases to me that he had that would come up in the early St. John’s times, and my older son—when I came down there, they were going to go to public schools, but I didn’t think the public schools were up to what I thought they ought to be, so I got my older son into St. John’s and he did very well and he went on to get a Ph.D. and is now doing recombinant DNA and is professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin and just got back from a European jaunt and he’s been to India. In other words, I think that that aspect of Houston was very important to me because Chensey(??) and I were going through the same problems at the same time and helped each other when we could help each other.
Then at Kincaid, John Hancock Cooper came down from Northern Illinois to take over when they were still over on Richmond Avenue. That’s before your time. And when the Kincaids gave it up—old Mrs. Kincaid couldn’t handle it anymore—well, John Cooper came with a bunch of kids and we also had common friends in Northern Illinois—these are all such crazy circumstances—and my second son, who was always trying to ape my older son, who was three years older, but he was aping him because of things like building bombs and electronics and he wasn’t gifted in that area, and I thought it was unfair to put my younger son in competition with somebody who went three years ahead of him, so I made the decision to put the younger son in Kincaid, so he went through Kincaid and he went to Washington University and got Phi Beta Kappa as I did—I forgot to mention that—and he went on to medical school and graduated with final honors at AOA and he’s now an internist in Bethesda in the Cancer Institute.
(07:27) So I felt that I was very fortunate in having those developments occurring at a time when I needed in my own family some kind of community support. I don’t know if you follow that, but I think these are the things I think about and as far as Houston is concerned and my relationship to it.
NR: Have you ever been back to Galveston after that original trip in 1940?
RB: Oh, yes. And now Galveston, Dr. Charles--Bill Daeschner—C.W. Daeschner also trained in St. Louis, and he was in my department for ten years and he got the chairmanship bug which many a young people do, and he decided he was going to Galveston. So he is now the chairman at Galveston and has national recognition in that he has been the President of the American Board of Pediatrics, which is the certifying board. So that Galveston, while it’s sort of off the beaten track, but they have a beautiful medical setup there, and when Bill Daeschner left our department, he took two of our best people with him, but we had so many people, it didn’t make any difference for Daeschner to take them, and they have a beautiful new children’s hospital down there now. So that Galveston has really come up a lot compared with what it was when I first went down there, and I go down there. In fact, I’m going down there tomorrow to visit some friends in Dickinson that I probably will drop down to Galveston, to see the Daeschners.
We’ve had a very interesting career in Texas. I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve been all over the world and I’ve given papers all over and I’ve been pretty well satisfied with what I’ve done.
LM: Have there ever been disagreements over the direction the hospital is taking?
RB: (09:55) Oh, yes. There was tremendous responsibility at the very beginning between Dr. David Greer and myself. I believed well before that—it was my belief and the reason I wanted to be on the Children’s Foundation—I think the chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor should be physician-in-chief at Children’s, and that should be as one. So that actually, this is the only truly university-affiliated hospital in the Center because the chairman of pediatrics has to be physician-in-chief. Physician-in-chief has to be chairman, and the search was joint, which is a very great accomplishment. This is really important for the well-being of any pediatrics center. That isn’t true of every hospital in the country.
Then I think the real struggle that we had, which was acrimonious at times—it was still friendly—between Dr. Greer and me. Dr. Greer was the pediatrician in Houston. He had excellent training and is a very fine clinician; very smooth, and he wanted a children’s hospital to be out away from the Medical Center and standing alone as an independent unit. Well, I knew that was wrong. That’s not the way to have a children’s hospital. It should be in the Medical Center where you can share with the dental school—we have a good affiliation with dental school, share with the library and with the research people at Baylor and the people who are doing the flu studies at Baylor. They should be involved in the hospital, so we had for over a year, our Pediatric Society—we just went—I’d be at one end of the table and he’d be at the other and we’d be arguing back and forth and back and forth, and finally, I won.
LM: Why would he want the hospitals separate?
RB: Because they felt—many of them felt that they’d had training at, say, Denver Children’s, which was run by The Denver Post. They were independent, they had all the money, they didn’t want to be contaminated with the academic people, so to speak. The same way in Chicago. They have all these separate units and Dr. Greer was trained there, so that they thought it was advantageous, you see, to be separate and exclusive and away from the meshwork—the academic meshwork, which of course, was wrong, and so we argued. That was very trying and finally, I won--and with a lot of help--and Dr. Greer accepted it, and we gave the library is named after Dr. Greer and he lived to be 90 and he always was very friendly and very happy about what happened to the hospital.
(13:25) There were a lot of rough spots.
LM: One of the questions I had in my mind much earlier in the interview, you mentioned that Hermann Hospital did not want to be affiliated with you?
LM: What was the reason for this? You mentioned they were conservative.
RB: Well, the reason was the Hermann Hospital was highly in doubt at that time, you see, Mr. Hermann had set up the fund for indigent patients and then they changed the will so they could take private patients, and so when Baylor came with zero money—maybe a few hundred thousand; I don’t know exactly how much they had, but it wasn’t very much—Hermann was extremely wealthy. There were very strong doctors over there. They did not want any interference with what they were doing, and I had to walk the tightrope there because I had to serve on the Education Committee at Hermann under Dr. Crozier, whom I really admire. You can see their point of view. You can’t be narrow-minded. You have to see their point of view. But they would not have a formal affiliation because they thought the funds in that foundation would be dissipated and eased over into the Medical School and they also did not like the idea of Dr. DeBakey would be the chief surgeon or if he wasn’t chief, he would be the most prominent—you know what I mean. So the doctors were fighting it so that they never could come to any agreement, and the only way I did pediatrics was that every year, I was appointed by the Baylor board to be Chief of Pediatrics, not because I was chairman of the department, but because I was Russel Blattner, you see, which is quite different. And now, of course, they have gone with tremendous support from the University of Texas and that is really a remarkable development which we are now experiencing.
LM: What about the Shriner’s Hospital? Why didn’t they want to?
RB: (15:41) Shrine didn’t want to for the same reason. They had their own doctors, their own identity, and a man by the name of Mr. Vallas was the head of it. He was a layman who was very good at keeping anybody out, and they ran it well. There’s nothing wrong with it. It was just not academically oriented for teaching, see? That’s where the big problem is, with a teaching hospital is not everybody wants to go get taken care of in a teaching hospital because that’s where the newest things are done, where the residents are there and so forth.
NR: Did you feel that the fact that Shriners and Texas Children’s were not joined was their loss?
RB: I think that the Shrine Hospital is very strong. This particular Shrine Hospital was the first Shrine Hospital in the United States before the National Shrine was organized. Then later on, this Shrine Hospital joined the national organization, but they were here before the national organization, so you can see how jealous they were of their identity, and the Shriners have more money to spend. And the big thing they’re doing now is the Burn Institute. Now, we wanted the Burn Institute in the Medical Center here, but they got it in Galveston through Truman Blocker, who is a very powerful figure, and it’s great. I’m so glad they’re down there because it’s an A-number-one burn center and we send very severely burned patients down there for care and it’s extremely expensive, it’s time consuming, but they got the money to do it.
They would not have had the—this is my opinion—I don’t think that the Shrine organization had the conception except crippled. You had to have one leg shorter than the other and one of the hardest things to put across is that a child with a rheumatic heart is just as much of a cripple as a child who’s lost a leg. We had that fight in Missouri, where the state crippled children would not support rheumatic heart patients, but they would support orthopedic problems. We finally put that over, that congenital rheumatic heart was a crippling disease and they were limping just as sure as if one of their legs were cut off, so I think that this is probably the restrictions that they and in their national thinking or in their organizational thinking, and we use the Shrine all the time. For long-term care, you just can’t beat it. If you have a little indigent child—I had one about a year ago with one leg shorter than the other. Well, it was a little black kid and they didn’t have any money but they did a beautiful job of treating him with x-ray and stuff prior to leg surgery. I saw the kid not so long ago and the legs are the same way. So that everything has its place, and of course, now, the Children’s Hospital has many additions and I really can’t tell you how many kids—I think it’s 350 or something like that. We started out as 100, and the residency program, as I told you, is 105, 110 pediatric residents, and Dr. Feigin has had absolutely no difficulty in filling all those places from all over the United States. They just have two or three or five candidates for every place so that Houston can be proud of the Children’s Medical Center. I really think it has fulfilled its promise, more than I think many people thought.
NR: That’s a very exciting story.
RB: (20:03) Well, I hope that you enjoy it.
RB: Now, there’s a lot of material over in the library—at the Center library. They collected all of the—a lot of things I had; my publications, and the Junior League was very good about keeping clippings and all those things are available over there if anybody wanted to plow through it, because that really is a good way to establish dates and who talked at the dedication. Jessie Jones, I remember was one of them. And these would all be things that somebody would have to spend the time to go through all that material. And the women’s auxiliary here—Texas Children’s—they have quite a bunch of clippings and I don’t know how well-organized it is, but the material’s there. And I think Frances Hyke might have had some of the material that I forgot to mention that they have a room here which is called the Blattner Conference Room and there’s a cabinet which was built by the Junior League, and there’s a lot of memorabilia in there. The key is available here in my desk, and there are a lot of things there of interest. We had all the original notes of the Junior League meetings when Mrs. Deetering(??), remember? Mrs. Childs—you know, Mrs. Deetering? Well, Mrs. Childs was very prominent in those early days, and Mrs. Longhaw was important. And Betsy Reicher. Do you know Betsy Reicher? She’s a beautiful girl--she’s now, I guess she’s 50--but anyway, all these people who are now prominent matrons, you see, used to work in the clinic, and that was a big advantage to us because as they grew older and married all these rich men, the wives usually tell their husbands what to do, so they’re playing into our hands, I think, in a way. But it’s been very interesting. I was going to say Francis Hyke might have some material that you could use, too, in your—you know? Clippings. And then I have some material here also; slides that when I had my final dinner. They gave me a marvelous dinner down at the big hotel downtown and there were 500 people invited and they got a bunch of slides of showing different stages of development. (23:00) Sometimes you might want to look at those, just to get some idea about some of the visual things that they were able to collect.
NR: Well, I know that the publication Watch has varied.
RB: Yeah, Watch has some things in it, too.
NR: Regarding your career and the contributions that you’ve made.
RB: I would say it’s been a very, very nice thing to remember. So is there anything else you want to know?
NR: I don’t think so. I want to thank you for your time. You’ve been very helpful and I know that other people will be interested in hearing stories you’ve had to tell.
RB: Well, I’m just awfully pleased that I could help. Fine. I hope that I don’t make anybody angry. [Laughter]
NR: Thank you.
RB: All right. Fine, thank you very much.
[End of Audio 4]