It's in the Blood

It’s in the Blood

Blood is a powerful substance. People swear oaths by it, save lives by donating it, and wear gloves to protect themselves from it. If it’s in the blood, it’s serious business.

Ann Bell, a retired UT Health Science Center hematology technologist and assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, is an expert on blood cells–and she has the literary credits to prove it. The Morphology of Human Blood Cells, the atlas she helped develop in collaboration with Dr. L. W. Diggs and Dorothy Sturm, is in its seventh edition. Diggs was a UTHSC professor of medicine and director of medical laboratories. Sturm was an instructor at the Memphis Academy of Arts, who illustrated the original edition of the book with hand-made watercolors.

“Our book has been used for years to teach hematology to medical students, interns, residents, and medical technologists in most of the larger laboratories across the United States,” Bell says. “In one of the earlier editions, we added a few photomicrographs to show the irregularities that appear in the blood when different types of blood diseases are present.” A photomicrograph is a photograph of an object or cell through a microscope, usually viewed at a magnification of 100 to 1,000 times actual size. The magnified images of blood cells made the book a valuable visual reference tool.

In 2000 Walter Diggs, son of L. W. Diggs, realized that the publication needed updating. “We wanted to find a way to improve the book to make it even more useful,” Diggs says.

“I woke up one night worrying about it,” Bell recalls. “Then it came to me. Why can’t I use my Kodachromes?” Before the digital age, Kodachrome photography was the gold standard. The large, vivid transparencies were the best images available for projection and reproduction in books and magazines.

“I have an extensive file of hematology Koda­chromes, probably more than anybody else at UT,” she says. “I matched the drawings in the book to my Kodachromes and selected the best ones.”

First published in 1956, the book was illustrated only with drawings for the first six editions. “This seventh edition is the first time it has been re-written in more than 20 years, and the addition of Ann’s images adds more force and vibrancy to the book,” Diggs says. “This is really Ann’s edition.”

“Anyone who has studied hematology and the morphology of blood cells is familiar with the atlas that Ann co-authored. It has always been a major resource,” says Bette Jamieson, educational coordinator at Children’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado. “I teach medical technologists, residents, and hematology fellows, and we always go to the microscope with this atlas by our side.”

Jamieson is part of an outreach project of the American Society for Clinical Pathology to educate laboratory and healthcare workers in developing African nations. “We always take Ann’s atlas with us,” Jamieson says. Since January 2005, more than 500 copies of the morphology book by Diggs, Sturm, and Bell have been distributed to African nations. The large, crisp color images of the blood are effective teaching guides in countries where books are a scarcity.

“ASCP began sending this atlas to the students we were teaching in Africa. Once this started, the atlases were welcomed so warmly and the demand was so great that we had to take names so we could forward the books later,” Jamieson says. She says the book works well because it is compact, the pictures are instructive, and the text is concise and up-to-date.

“This type of reference for the laboratory workers is simply wonderful,” Jamieson says. “The physicians who attended some of the sessions were very encouraged that the African technologists now doing the microscope work were able to have these atlases to confirm their observations.

“Every time I talk about Ann’s career, I move into hyperbole because truly her contribution has been enormous,” says Jamieson, who has known Bell for two decades. “She has been an icon for so many years, and to think that she and her colleagues assembled this atlas when there were very few resources of this nature is simply amazing. She is tireless in her pursuit of keeping this atlas current and illustrated with the best possible images.”

The number of medical technologists and doctors who have benefited from the book is well into the thousands, Jamieson says. “To think that Abbott Labs has continued to produce this atlas after so many years and distributed it so widely testifies to its importance to hematology.

“Not only has Ann helped educate a great number of medical professionals, her contributions extend to the diagnosis and treatment of thousands of patients. What can you say about a career like this? It’s all been so positive and truly remarkable.”