Dan Hightower, DVM
President term ended in 1985

Houston, Texas November 12, 2003

M:     Dan, we would like to get your remembrances of how things were in the Chapter around the time you were President. Is there anything in particular that comes to mind about those days?

H:    I laugh and think about some of the things, Warren, that when I used to go to the meetings and some of the physicians would come up and say, “Are you going to give a talk this year?” 
“Yes,” I would say.
“What are you going to talk about?”  
I’d give them an idea you know (something about dogs or cats) and I’d say, “Why are you interested in something like that?”
“We’d like to hear that,” they’d say. “You know, we talk about people all day every day and it’s interesting to hear something else.”  

I’ll never forget, I was introduced one time (I can’t remember where it was), and they laughed and said that when I talked about “CAT” scans, I actually scanned cats.  

I think back, and I think I imposed on the vast majority of the people in the Southwestern Chapter because we were brand new (at A&M) and trying to get some things started. I used to call people and ask them questions and remember Charlie Petty. If I’d ask Charlie -- and you know Charlie would laugh anyway -- I think that if I had just opened the window, I could have heard Charlie laughing all the way from Temple to College Station about some of the stupid things that I asked him.  But, it was really interesting. Turner Harris was the president just ahead of me and, boy, I learned a lot from Turner about how things should be and then Bob Sonnemaker was the president right after me and, you know it was just a thing that we all worked together. 

I don’t know about the other chapters, but I thought that the people in the Southwestern Chapter all got along so well and it seemed like everybody had a good time, and we had good meetings.  It was just a real pleasure and a privilege for me to be the President. You know, I was the second veterinarian that was the president.  

M:    That was one of the things I wanted to ask you about.  What can you tell me about Dr. William Banks?

H:    Bill Banks was our veterinary radiologist at A&M.  He was head of Radiology up there, and he had met some of the people in nuclear medicine. He went to the meetings, and he got elected as president, several years before me.   In one way, I think he was kind of relieved when they hired me to try to get something going in nuclear medicine (at A&M). When I went to A&M, I’m not sure that there was a functioning radiation detector in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and oh boy I accumulated stuff from everywhere.

M:    How did you get into nuclear medicine?

H:     The Army sent me to graduate school at Reed College in Portland, Oregon to learn about radiation biology.  It wasn’t a degreed course, but got an introduction into a lot of things and then we went from there to Hanford and then to the bomb site and then to Albuquerque on weapons and then to Walter Reed, more for the biological side.  I got started in that and I was assigned then, unfortunately or fortunately, either way you look at it, to the radiation preservation of foods project. The Director of the Division of Nuclear Medicine was Jim Hartgering, who later was with the AMA, I think.  While I was out at Walter Reed one day, I was going to give a talk in one of their courses, he asked me to come by his office and he sprung this on me.  He said they were going to build a little research reactor at Walter Reed and they had had a meeting that day and they wanted someone who was basically in the biological sciences to go get a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and they thought maybe I was the one, ha ha! You can well imagine that I blinked real hard, but they sent me to North Carolina State, and I did get a master’s degree in nuclear engineering.  I went back to Walter Reed and was in charge of their reactor group for a while and then the Department of Biophysics for a while and then when I retired, I was the Deputy Director of the Division of Nuclear Medicine.  Our prime job was in nuclear weapons effects.  

But you know, you kind of get tired of that. I happened to be at A&M on a trip because we had a contract with a guy down there, and would you believe that while I was there, they offered me a job to get out and start a program in the College of Veterinary Medicine?  That was about a year before I could retire, but it started me thinking and I decided to retire and take it.  But it was a tough decision.  I liked the Army.  Had a good job in the Army and turned down a promotion to take that job at A&M, but I’ve never been sorry.  I stayed in the Army 20 years and one day.  And then I spent 26 years on the faculty at A&M.

M:    When did you go to A&M?

H:    I graduated in 1946. I went back there on the faculty in ‘66 and stayed until ’92. There wasn’t much in the nuclear business when I graduated from A&M—in fact, nothing. I’ve laughed at people in the veterinary profession who are radiologists, and I ask them “Do you know how much time we spent in radiology when I was a student?  One day!” Now there’s a lot more, but it’s been fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I must say this, that I met some of the greatest people.  I was on a committee for the National Cancer Institute in the ‘70s for four years.  And you know, traveling around and meeting those people and so forth, that was just something that not a lot people get an opportunity to do. 

M:    How did you get involved in the Southwestern Chapter?

H:    We got started originally at A&M working with thyroid disease in animals because then you could run T3 uptakes.  This was long before RIA, and we had accumulated some data. I don’t remember whether it was with Bill Banks or who it was, but there was a meeting in San Antonio and Jim Smathers (who was in the physics side of the house; he’s out at UCLA now) and I submitted a paper to give at the meeting, and it was accepted, and I went over well. I met a lot of people, and I just kept going. Everybody was so nice. I eventually served as a trustee, program chair, president, and historian.

M:    I saw that you were elected at the meeting in Oklahoma City, and then you actually became President at the meeting here in Houston in ‘84, and then the meeting at the end of your tenure was in New Orleans.

H:    Yes, and that was, you know, a great meeting.  We really enjoyed it down there.  Grace, my wife, had broken her shoulder and she had her arm all up in a sling when we had to go to New Orleans to the meeting.  But, you know, John Hidalgo and Lynn Witherspoon and Stan Schuler and that whole bunch down there did a great job. I thought we had a good meeting down there.  

M:    John Hidalgo was the Executive Secretary, I think that is what they called him back then, and so he was the one that sort of ran the operation for the Chapter.

H:    Yes, he did.  Before that, I can’t remember who all did it, but they’d always have a local guy that made all of the arrangements.  Then they decided that that got to be very time-consuming, and there was a whole learning curve that everybody would have to go through each year. So, John Hidalgo, who was a member and former President, decided to do that every year; he and his wife, and she did a lot of the work, too.  Then somewhere along the way when Hidalgo decided to give it up, Jean Parker took it up. I think Jean still had the job when I retired from A&M.  I haven’t been to a whole lot of meetings, Warren, since I retired.

M:    And then Bob Sonnemaker was the President-Elect when you were President.

H:    Yes, he was, and he was a real joy to work with; as was Turner before me. Turner was really very nice and helped me in any way he could and Bob was the same way. Tom (Haynie) helped me a lot, really.  In fact, I was down at M. D. Anderson one day (I don’t remember what for), and they had an old rectilinear scanner that they had put out in the hall to dispose of.  I asked him, “What are you going to do with that?”  They were going to throw it away.  I said, “Let me have it,” so they did. We came back and picked it up, and that was the first scanner we had in the College of Veterinary Medicine.  It had a 2-inch crystal on it and we had some people in electronics in our department, and they replaced all the electronics on that thing to make it work and we used it for quite a while.

M:    I remember you saying that you got things from a lot of people around you … equipment…

H:    Oh yes.  We got stuff from Tom and many others. The physician who was an astronaut—Don Holmquest came to A&M to be the Associate Dean of the medical school, and he called me one day and said he had some money that he needed to spend in the medical school and that it seemed like Phil Johnson over at Methodist Hospital in Houston had a camera that he wanted to sell.  Holmquest said, “I would like to buy it and have it up here, but I don’t have any place to put it. Have you got a place that you could put it?”  And I said, “Well, we’ll find a place,” which we did.  And that was the first (gamma) camera we ever had. 

I told somebody that we had taken a picture of a horse that had a goiter and then we took one of a normal horse to show the difference. Later I showed those to someone from Nuclear Chicago, and they almost flipped at one of the national meetings because they’ve told me that was the first time that a camera had ever been used to image a horse.  We also took a picture of a thyroid tumor in a horse with that 2-inch rectilinear scanner and someone asked me at one of the Southwestern Chapter meetings, “Well, uh, how did you do that?”  And I remember answering it, “Very carefully!”

We were very fortunate that we always had the people around that knew how to handle animals. We used to tranquilize a lot of them, but I preferred not to tranquilize a horse unless I absolutely had to because they’ll hurt you when they’re tranquilized when they wouldn’t hurt you otherwise.  You know, they would stagger around, and they’ll just do weird and wonderful things when they’re tranquilized that they won’t do otherwise, so I preferred not to tranquilize them.  

Along those lines: the biology department had a snake, and they wanted to know where the thyroid was or something in that snake and uh so they brought it over and I said, “Well, if you will handle the snake, then we’ll take a picture of it.”  Well, it turned out there’s a venous plexus in the posterior part of the oral cavity and you can inject into that and so we injected some technetium into that thing and we put it in a pillowcase and I had about 3 people that were holding that snake still on top of the camera and we took a picture of that thing.  Well, anyway, I mentioned this in Oklahoma City … I guess maybe I was the Program Chairman up there and so I said that we had done that and I wanted to show them a picture of what a thyroid scan on a snake was like. “By the way,” I told them, “If you really wonder how to do some of these things, if you ever wondered how to feed a snake, I’ll answer that for you.”  And so somebody said they wanted to know, and I said you say, “Andrea (our nuclear medicine technologist), feed the snake.”  After that, Andrea told me, everybody came up to her (she was a very attractive young lady anyway) and said, “Oh, you’re the snake charmer.”  And she told me later, “I really wanted to be known in the Southwestern Chapter for nuclear medicine but now I’m known as the snake charmer.”  (haha)  So anyway it was those kind of things that were just fun.

M:    I was looking at this newsletter from your term as President, and I see a couple of things that came up while you were president.  One of them was the NRC changing the rules for training, specifically for cardiologists. Another was that there was a fight between the AMA and the government over Medicare funding.

H:    Oh I remember some of that.  One of the things that, in one way, made it a little bit difficult, was the fact that I felt like those kind of things were better answered by physicians than a veterinarian, even though I was President of the Chapter.  And so I tried not to get personally involved.  Those were the kinds of things that I used to ask Bob Sonnemaker (the President-Elect) about. 

M:    I also see there that you had a budget of about $40,000, total budget for the year, and you also had a reserve of about $40,000.

H:    This was about the time that we decided that when you get too much money you start running into IRS problems and this was about the time we thought well, an amount of money about equal to one year’s expenditures was all we needed to keep.  So, we tried to find things that the chapter could provide at the meeting so we didn’t build up a great big surplus of money.  

M:    Some of the presidents that came after you would have liked to have had that problem.  

M:    One of the initiatives that came about while you were president was changing the Bylaws to create the Past President’s Committee, at least as an official committee.

H:    We thought a lot of the past presidents still had things to contribute, but really and truly once you went out as President, that was about it.  This was an attempt I think to maybe be able to call on past presidents if you wanted to.  It wasn’t the fact that they were going to have all these great big things presented to them, but it was going to be a situation that maybe something would come up and the President would like to get, or the Board would like to get, input from people who had been down that road before.  

M:    Another thing that came up during your tenure was preparation for the national SNM meeting to be held in Houston in June of 1985. You came up with the idea to have decals for the Southwestern Chapter members?

H:    Oh yeah.  That was something that I thought, if we were going to be the host chapter or it was going to be down here, then people ought to know who was the Southwestern Chapter.  

M:    MRI was getting started when you were President and they added a new item to the refresher course.  They added NMR and that’s the way they listed it, NMR, not MRI. 

H:    It used to be NMR, or NMR scan, and then people decided that nuclear was a bad word so they changed it to MRI to get away from the use of the term nuclear.  There was no other reason except that everybody thought, well, that was the best thing to do.  

M:    Another focus, it seems, was the idea of getting new people involved in the Chapter.

H:    Oh yeah, that was one of those things that I don’t remember for sure, whether it was during my term or not, when they started finding that cardiologists wanted to do their own nuclear medicine, and there were other people who wanted to do nuclear medicine with what a lot of the people in the Southwestern Chapter didn’t think was adequate training, 

And another thing, I was on the state radiation advisory board for 18 years, and boy we fought a battle over mobile cameras for the whole 18 years. “What training did the local physician need to have for them to bring a camera in?” 

M:    Is there anything else you would like to comment on from your term?

H:    Oh, gosh, I can’t think of anything

M:     Well, I appreciate you coming over and helping us out with this project.