Theda Driscoll Second President of the SWCSNM Technologist Section (term ending in 1974).

Theda Driscoll
Second President of the SWCSNM Technologist Section (term ending in 1974).

SWCSNM-TS President - 1974,  
March 8, 2005

MR. METZGER: How did you first become involved with Chapter leadership and was there anyone in particular that inspired you in that direction?

MS. DRISCOLL: Well, certainly Dr. Philip Johnson. He encouraged everybody on his staff to think about things to present at chapter and national meetings, and to write papers. He definitely was a great encouragement to me, and wanted everybody to become active in the Chapter.

MR. METZGER: All right. So you were president of the Technologist Section in 1974. How long were you involved with the Chapter after that? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Oh, probably into the '80s, early '80s.

MR. METZGER: When you think of your time with the Chapter, are there any particular highlights, or any accomplishments that you're most proud of, that stand out in your mind? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Well, definitely hosting the Technologist Section National meeting here in Houston. I was the co-program chairman for that meeting; it was very interesting and a lot of fun. That was in the mid '70s.

MR. METZGER: Now I understand that the Chapter Technologist Section was organized in '72, and, apparently, the Southwestern Chapter had a huge role in National's development of chapters. Dr. Thomas Haynie (nuclear medicine physician at M.D. Anderson) and Mr. Gary Wood (physicist at M.D. Anderson) and Vernon Ficken (then technologist at University of Oklahoma) are names that have come up in different interviews as far as developing at the National level what had already started and was working fairly effectively at the Southwestern Chapter level.

MS. DRISCOLL: Going back to the first part of part of your comment, I would say that Dr. Haynie was a great influence with the technologists. And in influencing me he was second to Dr. Johnson.

MR. METZGER: I am just amazed at the comments and commentary that have come out of all these different interviews regarding Dr. Haynie. He helped the physicists. He was on the organizing committee of the American Board of Science and Nuclear Medicine, and he helped develop the Technologist Section. His involvement at that time was so broad, and the way he conducted himself must have been so gracious. 

MS. DRISCOLL: Yes, Dr. Haynie really is truly an outstanding man.

MR. METZGER: Who's the most memorable person you've come in contact with in Chapter leadership? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Dr. Johnson.

MR. METZGER: Right, and can you relate a story or two? Do you have any stories that exemplify the kind of man Dr. Johnson was?

MS. DRISCOLL: Well, he pulled the very best out of you professionally because he expected so much but always helped you turn any failures into a learning process.

MR. METZGER: Not demanding, but encouraging? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Very definitely. We used to be down there at NASA and watch the launches go off. And the moon missions were by far the most exciting launches, but -- more exciting actually than the shuttle, because at that time they allowed people who were badged to get in really very close. I'm talking miles still, but it's much closer than they allow anybody to get now. When the rocket went off, you could hear it, you could feel the heat, and then you felt the earth vibrate and that was just a very exciting time always for all of us in the group that would be there watching it. Now the rockets aren't as big as they were on the moon missions. Those were the very, very biggest ones. All of our work with NASA was very exciting, and, again, he got me involved with a lot more than I ever thought that I would be involved with.

MR. METZGER: Could you describe what you were doing for NASA almost in layman's terms because a lot of technologists will be reading this too, and it might be new territory for them?

MS. DRISCOLL: Even before space flight it had been postulated that when you go into microgravity, your plasma volume will decrease. So we started out by measuring plasma volumes in the early Mercury flights, and, of course, they did decrease. When we used the hematocrit in attempt to calculate a red cell mass or estimate a red cell mass, we saw that the red cell mass probably was decreasing, and so even in the Apollo missions we were doing both plasma volume and red cell masses before and after flight. It was totally unexpected that the red cell mass would decrease because it was such a short length of time on those missions that they were up. It was only about seven days, and with the life span of the red cell, no one could think of any way that the red cell mass could decrease in that short of length of time, but we continued to do them, and the results continued to show the decrease. 

The next theory was that the capsules had oxygen in them on the early mission. And at the start of the Apollo missions, they were going to have very high oxygen content. One of the theories was that it was the high oxygen levels that were causing the red cells to die. After the terrible fire in the Apollo capsule as it was on the launch pad and three of the astronauts died, they took the oxygen level down to a normal one, and next flight that we did, the red cell mass still decreased. We continued to find that. We did iron kinetic studies on them finding normal incorporation of iron. We did glycine life span curves on the astronauts of the Skylab missions which were longer. There was time to draw blood in flight so that we could complete the studies. Everything was normal as far as the life span and red cell production. Then with later work during the shuttle missions it was theorized that in hepatosis red cells were affected possibly causing the very, very, very young cells and those first coming out of the bone marrow to die. I understand that remains the theory today.

MR. METZGER: And that's due to just the minimal or zero gravity? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Yes. The thing about the red cell mass changes are that they go down and stabilize, so that with the longer missions, we didn't have bigger changes than we had on shorter missions. That was another indication that it was something that happened very rapidly right at the start of the mission so they don't consider it a really big problem. 

The red cell mass doesn't go down far enough to cause them any more problem than the fact that the main thing is that both the red cell mass and the plasma volume come down, and so they have problems standing upright when they first come back just because they have a low total blood volume. They've concluded that it's a normal adaptation to space flight, to the microgravity that you make the adjustment, and then you just stay at that level from then on. Upon return to gravity they regain the red cell mass at a normal rate.

MR. METZGER: Do they need red cells transfused or infused when they come back? Or do they just need to eat well and relax?

MS. DRISCOLL: Right. They've discussed giving them erythropoietin, a hormone that causes the bone marrow to produce red cells and decided against it. Then every once in a while it comes up that maybe they would give it post flight. Well, it seems that it is just not that big of a health problem requiring intervention. At least that seemed to be the protocol when I stopped working on the project. And actually for all those years, we always did red cell mass and plasma volume, sometimes we did ferrokinetic studies, and sometimes we did the glycine life span studies.

MR. METZGER: And so generally speaking from when to when do you think you did that? What years? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Well, the Mercury was in the 1960s, and the last study I worked on was seven years ago. That's a lot through all that time.

MR. METZGER: I have been told by some folks that Dr. Johnson was the godfather of thyroid uptake. Does that sound familiar, does that sound like he was the prince? I mean, if somebody wanted thyroid treatment and they wanted to go to the best person in Houston, it would be Dr. Johnson? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Right. Yes.

MR. METZGER: So when you worked with Dr. Johnson, how much of your time was spent in thyroid studies compared to the blood volume studies or was there less and less of thyroid and more and more of blood until it was entirely all blood volume?

MS. DRISCOLL: The latter is exactly it. Early on Dr. Johnson was very interested in vitamin B12. And my first years working for him were totally on vitamin B12 and intrinsic factor. Then after that I started doing some work on thyroid, although thyroid was his major interest. It was his love, thyroid disease, and, in fact, I developed one of the early methods for measuring T-4, thyroxine.

MR. METZGER: Tell me about that.

MS. DRISCOLL: It was a chromatographic method which was just very time-consuming. I have kind of an interesting little story about the T-4 paper. I gave it at the Chapter meeting, and then I gave it at National, and at the Chapter it was a longer paper. The time allotted for me was longer than at National. When I presented at the National, I began not realizing until the buzzer went off that I had the outline for the longer paper and was using that timing, and I wasn't through with my paper. I was so embarrassed and really upset, and I don't mean that I couldn't finish my paper because I realized I had gotten there with my wrong card. The moderator was very nice though, and he said, you know, this is really an important paper, and I'm going to let her finish if she can do it in two minutes, which I did. 

The last 25 years, I was totally involved in the NASA work. That's all I worked on and maybe only ten percent on other things. But see, when I came into nuclear medicine, the only thing that was scanned was the thyroid. Liver scanning was just barely beginning, but when I first went to work, the thyroid was the only thing that we scanned, and those two things were the only two things that we did.

MR. METZGER: So much of what was done in those first several years was therapy. Then you see the imaging start to take over, it's less and less therapy and more and more imaging.

MS. DRISCOLL: The only other thing we did was vitamin B12 absorption studies.

MR. METZGER: And what was the reason for that procedure? 

MS. DRISCOLL: The diagnosis of pernicious anemia. It wasn't a pleasant study to do. You collected fecal samples for it. That was the only way to do it at that time. Other than the thyroid and B12 studies (and that was in the first lab I worked in), those were the only things we did with radioactivity other than treatment. As you say, treatment was a big part of it. You know, I go back to using rectilinear scanners for a long, long time. I had years of doing that before the camera came in, and I liked it better doing rectilinear scanners than doing the camera. I felt like it was almost an art to get a good scan. It was a meaningful scan with rectilinear scanner. You had to really work at it.

MR. METZGER: Speaking of art, did you know Art Hall? He worked for NuMed out of College Station. It's funny. Art Hall is the one everybody points to as Mr. Technologist Section. Those looking back will say they were mentored by Art Hall, and then he points to Shirley Ledbetter as having an important role in his life, and Margaret Perry who was Margaret Reyes at the time. She had a significant role in his development. He went on to become National Counsel Delegate as many times as you could be, and president of the National SNM Technologist Section. He mentioned the rectilinear scanner and about how you used to be able to have color images at one point, and then they came out with the Anger camera that was smaller and you just got black and white. Then, sometime later they came out with color again, and Art was, “Well, we had that. Everything old is new again.”

MS. DRISCOLL: Right. Exactly. Did they mention to you, though, how long it took us to do a scan? 

MR. METZGER: No. How long did it take? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Well, of course, thyroid scans didn't take too long just because it's a tiny organ, but if you were going to scan the liver, to do one view of it took over 30, 40, 50 minutes.

MR. METZGER: And then how is it reproduced?

MS. DRISCOLL: A tapper on carbon paper.

MR. METZGER: Was that was pretty much “live”---meaning, as you're doing the scan, it's tapping? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Yes it was. The scanner draws the picture while the technologist oversees the process from above the platform that had the paper on it, and you could see the picture starting to form.

MR. METZGER: Okay. Very interesting. I'd like to understand a little bit better too, what was the role of nuclear medicine in the blood volume studies? Would something be tagged? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Yes. For red cell mass you withdraw blood, label the red cells, and reinject part of the red cells. Some would be saved for a standard. Later some blood was drawn from the subject and processed. Radioactivity (counts) was determined in each sample and a dilution formula was used based on how much was injected, and how many counts were in the standard. That's the red cell mass; and then for plasma volume you just inject radioactive albumin which dilutes to plasma.

MR. METZGER: Okay. I'd heard that before. Now, what were you tagging the red blood cells with? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Chromium.

MR. METZGER: All right. See, the other thing I’m learning is that so many of the newer technologists may not have even heard of these things. Apparently, Art Hall was reminiscing about how in the early days the technologists would actually prepare dosages; whereas now, you get it from the pharmacy.

MS. DRISCOLL: Well, possibly most of them do imaging exclusively and have never done anything else because the radioimmunoassays we use to do and some of the other studies have are now done in pathology.

MR. METZGER: Irrespective of Chapter involvement, what are some highlights of your own practice of nuclear medicine? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Oh my goodness. Well, Nuclear Medicine was such a very good area to be in especially at the time I was in it because it was really growing and developing, and I think that's one of the reasons that this would be also why the Chapter has added to my professional life because it seems like every year a certain portion of it was devoted to collecting data and analyzing it and getting a presentation ready for the Chapter. You know, that was just part of the yearly thing, and then maybe getting it ready for National after that or helping to work on other presentations from the laboratory that were being given by other people. The part that I enjoyed the most was doing statistical analysis. I loved the analyzing of the data and writing papers.

MR. METZGER: I remember a course in college on statistical analysis and probability and, boy, that was a tough course. 

MR. METZGER: I'm reading an article that came from Oklahoma, the Shawnee News Star. It says, "Oklahoma Baptist University students and alumni have long been known for reaching around the world to make lives better. Theda Driscoll has long been working to improve conditions for people who are going in a more vertical direction." 

Very nice first paragraph. That gets your attention. And much of that we've talked about already, but they do quote you here saying, "Because of my involvement with NASA research over the past 45 years, I've met many interesting people and traveled to interesting places. I have been very lucky because the M.D.s and Ph.D.s that I've worked with have allowed me opportunities that far exceed what is usually available for someone without an advanced degree. Because of this, I have pushed myself more than I would have otherwise. My friends and family label me a workaholic." Now, that's very interesting. What are you doing during your retirement? 

MS. DRISCOLL: You know, I don't know how I had time to go to work. I love it, and I was really worried. You know, before I retired, I thought, oh, I'll be wanting to get back to the harness in six months, but I love it.

MR. METZGER: So please tell more about interesting places and interesting people.

MS. DRISCOLL: Well, while we were talking, I thought about something else, and this has to do with travel. We always said, “Have lab; will travel.” And we had a great big trunk that contained a regular centrifuge for spinning down test tubes, and another centrifuge for doing hematocrits, which is very heavy. Both of them are heavy pieces of equipment, and then had all the other stuff that we needed for doing the red cell mass because we went so many places to do red cell mass studies. Of course, many, many, trips to Cape Kennedy to do them and many, many trips to Edwards Air Force Base in California to do them, but I've also been to the Virgin Islands for a Navy study off the Virgin Islands, and I have been to Bermuda early on for the astronauts. They sent us to them. You know, they got a big vacation when they came back. One time it was time to do the astronaut, and that's where he was, and so they sent the whole team out there to do him. I've done them in Samoa and in Hawaii when they were doing the Pacific landings and I did a lot at the University of Pennsylvania. They had somebody there that was very interested in doing these, and the person wanted people who did them for NASA to do their work. I also went to a number of other places in the United States.

MR. METZGER: Okay. This article says something about Russia. 

MS. DRISCOLL: Oh, yes. I had forgotten. I did red cell mass and plasma volume on a couple of Russian flights that went to Star City, which is where their cosmonauts live.

MR. METZGER: And where is that? 

MS. DRISCOLL: It's about 30 minutes out of Moscow by train. And I was over there for about six weeks doing a study that didn’t have to do with red cell mass. But anyway, I did spend a month in Moscow, and a week up in Leningrad, and this was back when it was the Soviet Union.

MR. METZGER: Right. Leningrad is now St. Petersburg. Right? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Yes, and that was quite an experience because it was a military state! But, yes. I did get to travel a lot.

MR. METZGER: You might get some sort of recognition there, you know, as the most well-traveled of the Chapter's presidents. You know, maybe others have traveled more on vacations or something, but likely not for actual lab work. 

MS. DRISCOLL: Right. You probably couldn't get by with that now with all the regulations and everything. We would have the isotopes shipped to where we were going. You know, nearly every place that we went, there was somebody that we could get in contact with and who was licensed to have isotopes. But I did bring all the blood samples back in a little makeup kit like Samsonite used to have. And I'm sure you couldn't get by with that now.

MR. METZGER: Oh, that is funny. Well, this has been great. Is there anything else that you'd like to say? 

MS. DRISCOLL: Well, I don't know if anybody else mentioned this, but at the technologist level, we had very active city sections. I know New Orleans had one and some other places did, but in Houston, we had a very successful one that might still be active.

MR. METZGER: It is active. 


MR. METZGER: Yes, and I think yearly they put on accredited programs. 

MS. DRISCOLL: Well, see, we met once a month for years. It was people who were in the Southwest Technologist Section that were involved with running that. I mean, other people came to the meetings too. Any tech that worked in the city could come to the meetings.

MR. METZGER: Yes, you know, that's something that's been lost over time. Many of the early leaders when you ask how they got involved say, “Well, I was involved at the city level either in Houston or in Oklahoma City and I made a report to Chapter.” And then they move up through the Chapter and everything, but their leadership skills began at the city level. 

MS. DRISCOLL: Right. Well, that's the way it was here. I was in on forming that, but that's how other people got started.

MR. METZGER: And now there are very few cities in the Southwestern Chapter region that are actively functioning. Houston is one of them. Oklahoma City has one but a lot of the others have sort of faded out, and so the opportunities to get your feet wet in leadership and kind of grow and get involved isn’t there. There's no city transitional level. It is right to the Chapter now.


MR. METZGER: Well, we will end it here. This was very important to get your perspective and input. 

MS. DRISCOLL: Okay. It's been very enjoyable talking to you.