Honoring Leslie A. Geddes - Farewell ...
© Valentinuzzi; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010
Received: 14 November 2009
Accepted: 5 January 2010
Published: 5 January 2010
Honor thy father and thy mother, say the Holy Scriptures , for they at least gave thee this biological life, but honor thy teachers, too, for they gave thee knowledge and example.
Leslie Alexander Geddes took off on a long, long trip, Sunday October 25, 2009, leaving his body for medical and research use. The departing station was West Lafayette, Indiana, where he set foot in 1974, at Purdue University, stamping there a unique deep imprint, similar and probably more profound than the one left at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), Houston, Texas, in the period 1955-1974. Memories came back as a flood the minute after a message broke the news to me: When I first met him visiting the Department of Physiology at BCM back in 1962, my first Classical Physiology with Modern Instrumentation Summer Course ... The versatile Physiograph was the main equipment, an electronic-mechanical three or four channel recorder that could pick up a variety of physiological variables. Les and his collaborators had introduced also the impedance pneumograph, which was a simplified version of previous developments made by others. It became a ubiquitous unit that trod many roads in the hands of eager and curious students. Ventricular fibrillation and especially its counterpart, defibrillation, stand out as subjects occupying his concern along the years. Many were the students recruited to such effort and long is the list of papers on the subject. Physiological signals attracted considerable part of his activities because one of his perennial mottos was measurement is essential in physiology. He has written thirteen books and over eight hundred scientific papers, receiving also several prizes and distinctions. Not only his interests stayed within the academic environment but an industrial hue was manifested in over 20 USA patents, all applied to medical use. History of science and technology was another area in which, often with Hebbel Hoff, he uncovered astounding and delightful information. It is beyond my capability to review everything Les did, least of all what he did during the long span at Purdue.
The versatile Physiograph was the main equipment in those days, a fully electronic-mechanical three or four channel recorder  that could pick up a variety of physiological variables, such as ECG, EMG, blood pressure, cardiac contractions, smooth or skeletal muscle contractions, so permitting access to a wealth of physiological information. Soon the instrument spread all over the USA and abroad; besides, it was relatively inexpensive. It was accompanied by a didactic Laboratory Manual that beautifully assisted the students in their practical daily endeavors .
Les and his collaborators had introduced also the impedance pneumograph [6–8], which was a simplified and very practical version of previous developments made by others. It became a ubiquitous unit that trod many roads in the hands of eager and curious students leading to surprising and elegant results, as for example the Law of Impedance Pneumography  or the first on-line intraventricular pressure-volume diagrams [10, 11] reminiscent of the typical loops encountered in thermodynamic machines. Such contributions were clear predecessors of the intracardiac diagrams, produced by the ingenious and successful conductance catheter later brought up by Jan Baan and colleagues, in Leiden, The Netherlands . Swiftly come to my mind the well-trained dogs used on the treadmill by Carrie Palmer, Les' graduate student; Peanuts, a nice kind of female mixed German Shepherd, became a prominent character in the lab .
Physiological signals attracted considerable part of his activities because one of his perennial mottos was measurement is essential in physiology, followed right away by first you must identify and unequivocally define the variable (complemented with that is why psychological stress is so difficult to quantify), and if you do not find a principle of transduction and an adequate technology for implementing it, the measurement results unviable. Thus, the necessary and sufficient conditions for carrying out a given measurement were clearly stated, all this nicely and extensively presented in his books [20–22]. The properties of stimulating and recording electrodes had been a continuing interest since graduation from McGill, as for example using dry electrodes  or the peculiarities and wide spectrum offered by the electrocardiographic signal . He has written thirteen books and over eight hundred scientific papers, receiving the Nightingale Prize in 1973 for one of them [25, 26] and, thereafter, the Texas Medical Association Award (1974) for a videotape on acute myocardial infarction. Not only his interests stayed within the academic environment but an industrial hue was manifested in over 20 USA patents, all applied to medical use [27, 28]. History of science and technology was another area in which, often with Hebbel Hoff, he uncovered astounding and delightful information, as for example papers on the graphic registration of physiological events [29–31] or his series of historical articles in the RETROSPECTROSCOPE Section of the IEEE/EMB Magazine, which in itself constitutes a solid set deserving to be collected within a special volume. I well and kindly remember, with a melancholy touch, the revival history experiments, as the arterial blood pressure measurement in the horse (and also in the dog) with the open manometer, as first done by Stephen Hales in 1728 along with the reading of Hales' first paragraph: In December, I caused a mare tied down ... No, it is beyond my capability to review everything Les did, least of all what he did during the long span at Purdue; perhaps some well-trained biographer in the not too distant future will decide to tackle such a project making use of documents and archival material surely to be found at McGill, Baylor and Purdue Universities.
Still young, his family moved to Canada, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1945 and a master's degree in 1953, both in electrical engineering, from McGill University in Montreal. Thereafter, in Houston as close collaborator of Hebbel E. Hoff, Les earned a doctorate in physiology in 1959 from Baylor University College of Medicine. Purdue University got hold of him for his last and longest period and made him Showalter Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering. In 2006, Dr. Geddes was recipient of the National Medal of Technology; several other important and well deserved distinctions brilliantly covered his chest.
The last time I talked with him over the phone (in September or October 2007 during one of my trips to the States), after asking him how he was, he answered cheerfully and full of pep ... well, Max ... as everything in life, wearing out a little ... but not rusty! Nice attitude, ain't it?
by Rebecca Roeder
One of Dr. Geddes' last graduate students at Purdue who started working with him in 1995. Written just days before he departed; reproduced with her kind permission.
In Texas Geddes did arrive,
from Canada they made him drive
to work with the iron lung brigade;
inventing equipment was his trade.
The kymograph needed replacing
smoking drum for each tracing.
Hebbel Hoff set forth the mission
Geddes' curiosity, intellect, intuition.
Differential amps, vacuum tubes
tucked in neatly packaged cubes.
High CMRR and immune from noise,
novel ideas it employs.
And thus, the Physiograph was created
electrical and mechanical interrelated;
compatible with oscilloscope.
Did you know he even helped the Pope?
Collecting data with great speed
Ahh ... a lab manual is what we need.
Teaching physiology was the course,
wow ... the Chauveau-Marey in a horse!
Back to the big modular machine,
continuous chart or projecting screen,
EEG, ECG, respiration, heart sounds,
blood pressure at every station.
Turtle, camel, fly, snake
a graphic recording he did make.
Any subject he could find
there were data to be mined.
So, cover up your civilian dress,
let's spray the unsuspecting guests,
with purple glory it will cover
anyone who dares to hover.
Teaching each biomedical principle,
at the same time, complex and simple.
Stating the obvious is the key
A special mentor he was to me.
To Rebecca Roeder, for her poem shown above. Besides, my gratefulness to LaNelle E. Geddes, George Wodicka and Cynthia Ferguson, all from Purdue University, for their helpful suggestions and corrections. Figures 2, 3 and 4 belong to Max Valentinuzzi's personal files. Figure 1 is freely available in the WEB.
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