6. Texas Medical Center

By David Smith

Though I’ve said it before I’ll say it again, I don’t want to be sick anywhere, but when my time comes to be dreadfully sick,

I want to be right here in Houston close to Texas Medical Center, with its 42 institutions and 15 hospitals staffed by multiple tens of thousands of medical professionals. Today with the Internet, there is most probably someone who “knows what page of the book we’re on”, whatever our malady, pain, or infection.
When I was a kid in El Paso in the ‘50s, I used to think a person felt better about a medical problem if the doctor could just put a name on it. Sometimes it seemed to me that the doctor was just “throwing darts at a board in a dark room” when he would give an elaborate name for a disease or an explanation that did not explain.
I don’t think this sort of thing happens very often these days inside the Texas Medical Center.
I remember when my oldest brother, Dr. Forrest Mosely Smith, Jr., was an aspiring pre-med who later did his residence in pediatrics at Hermann Hospital. I was selling dry ice at the time to M. D. Anderson Hospital, to Hermann Hospital, and to other med center institutions, but especially Baylor Medical School where high-powered research work required near instant freezing of human tissue at sub-zero temperatures on expiration of patients. Morgues are grim places, but I got used to several of them in T.M.C., delivering two inch thick, one foot square solid carbon dioxide slabs, often late at night or by pre-dawn’s early light.
Today our home on Rice Boulevard faces Rice Stadium and is a short mile from the Med Center. We’ve watched it grow from early days when it was referred to as Houston’s “second downtown.”
Each morning an army of thousands who’ve invested their lives in healthcare drive in to Texas Medical Center from all directions. You might say most of the Med Center employees have “enlisted in the T.M.C. healthcare army, for a lifetime.” In addition to the paid healthcare professionals there are other thousands of volunteers who don’t receive a cent for their substantial contributions to our healthcare system.
Last year Dr. Dolph Curb, a lifetime member of the South Main’s medical fellowship network passed away at age 103. This highly esteemed gentleman/physician/writer had in effect given three lifetimes of service to and/or within the Texas Medical Center.
It slightly annoys me that Houstonians have so little idea what goes on in my line of work, which is the chemical business. Is my business comparable to what goes on within Texas Medical Center? The short answer is lots. Though I jog by it almost daily, I know that far more is happening than just hospitals making sick people well. We’ve largely won the battle against heart disease and have made awesome progress against cancer and other diseases, using today’s consistently advancing medical technology.
Think for a moment of the men who founded the institutions of our Texas Medical Center and how mostly individuals paid for the hospitals within its borders out of personal funds. With the exception of Ben Taub Hospital, nearly all of our institutions arose in the private sector and with private, non-government funds. Most of the hospitals were Christian-based when they started, and hopefully some still are. Each institution’s history is a remarkable story that moves onward and upward with deliberate speed and sustained progress.
Consider Hermann Hospital. George Hermann was a bachelor Swiss immigrant who had experienced poverty and what it was like to be desperately in need of medical care but be unable to find it. When he became prosperous, he gave both Hermann Park and Hermann Hospital to the citizens of Houston. Hermann was a not-for-profit charity hospital initially when he gifted it to the citizens of Houston. His legacy is the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, with eight satellite hospitals in the Houston area alone. My view is that George Hermann was truly the “Father Abraham” of Texas Medical Center.
Montrose D. Anderson, like George Hermann, was also a bachelor, exceptionally wealthy and frugal to an extreme. He made a fortune trading in cotton and gave us the international cancer research facility that bears his name, The M.D. Anderson Foundation.
Dr. Denton Cooley and Dr. Michael DeBakey are names familiar to most Houstonians. These men did pioneering work developing technology in fighting heart disease and cancer. Each was a general. “General” Dr. DeBakey’s “army” was at Methodist Hospital and “General” Dr. Cooley’s Texas Heart Institute “army” was at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. These professional healthcare armies annually perform hundreds even thousands of open heart surgeries, cardiac cauterizations, and heart transplants.
All of us know that we are beginning to win the continuous war against cancer, heart disease, and many other diseases with spectacular victories. The “combat information center” for much of this fight is M. D. Anderson Hospital and Cancer Center, which serves not only Texans but patients from all over the world.
In my younger years whenever a person got news of cancer it was like a death sentence. Implicit in the word “cancer” was little or no hope. When you heard the diagnosis you’d silently say to yourself, “Old Schultz won’t be with us much longer.” And he wasn’t.
Then we started hearing the terms: chemotherapy, radiation treatment and in remission. People began surviving cancer and enjoying added years of life. Thankfully today, 20 years, 50 years, and near normal remaining lifetimes are not unusual, provided the cancer does not “metastasize” and they “got it all.” While one in four of us will likely die of cancer, survival rates continue rising. Five-year relative survival rates for men were in the 30% range before 1960; today here in Texas the survival rate pursuant to aggressive treatment is well over five years.
Impressive gains have also been made in reducing the cancer death rate for women, dropping 30% over 50 years. Here I salute the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and its annual “Race for the Cure” for breast cancer, where thousands participate in a walking, wheelchair, and jogging event in Houston. What a wonderful example of dealing with medical challenges in the private/voluntary sector.
With gratitude some thoughtful cancer persons have created the Cancer Survivors Plaza in the Texas Medical Center. It reminds me of one particularly important fact. We Texans, indeed all who have had to deal with the tough, disagreeable aspects of cancer treatment, do well to give thanks for the measurable and growing sophistication of treatments. We have lots of arrows in our quiver, whatever the type or diagnosis for cancer or heart disease. We are extending lifetimes and expectations greatly, and continuously. Increasingly persons are living to be a hundred.
Friends, you and I are standing at a crossroad that is requiring us to make some awesome life or death choices about the future of medical care. The splendid work at Texas Medical Center, as well as the sacrifices of countless volunteers, gifts of buildings, endowed chairs that cost fortunes, and heroism of healthcare volunteer armies are in danger of being trashed by the pettifogging politicians and predator lawyers in Washington, DC and Austin playpens fantasizing that they are benefactors choosing life for us, when in fact they are worse than hired thieves having a grand time choosing matters of life and death for working citizens.
Before we allow the government to choose death by default for “we the people,” let’s remember how the history of our healthcare evolved, not only at the Texas Medical Center in Houston but also throughout our nation. We want to choose life and hope, especially the Christian hope that does not disappoint us!
Bless you and thank you, doctors, medical personnel, and volunteers by the thousands!
Work and fight on, Texas Medical Center patients, phy-sicians, and your marvelous associated institutions!
Don’t give up to the pettifogging politicians and predator lawyers, especially those in Washington, DC. Here in Texas let us work and pray for a future of Heath Care that repudiates Socialized Medicine. Focus your giving and your work relative to medical progress. Keep the Faith.
(For more by David Smith and “Texas Spirit” go to www.totalrecallpress.com or amazon.com.)