Historian returns to her roots at Texas Health Harris

Lucile Estell has devoted her entire life to history.

A fourth-generation native of the Central Texas town of Rockdale, Estell earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history and has written and published three books on Texas history. An advocate of both historic preservation and education, she received a doctorate in educational administration and spent 44 years in teaching and administration before retiring.

And she’s made a little history herself.

Estell, 85, was the first baby born at Harris Hospital when it opened in 1930 in Fort Worth under the leadership of Dr. Charles Harris and the Methodist Church.

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“She’s our mascot. We’re so happy to have her here,” said Clint Sanders, director of business health services for what has become Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.

Estell walks a little slower these days but she’s far from slowing down. She keeps busy researching, writing and revisiting history. And she recently toured the year-old Senior Health & Wellness Center at Texas Health Harris to see what the doctors are doing to meet the needs of seniors in the Fort Worth area.

Her visit was as much a thrill for her as it was for the physicians and staff.

“I had heard of Harris Hospital my whole life because Mother knew she was the first patient here. Mother had always told me I was the first baby born here,” the octogenarian said. “I think many, many times about the hospital and what they’re doing here. I told someone that if I get really, really sick I want you to take me there. It’s too far away to be practical, though.”

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Estell’s last visit to Texas Health Harris was in 2005 for the hospital’s 75th anniversary. On her latest visit, she noted the booming growth and changes around the campus over the past decade, including the new Marion Emergency Care Center, which houses the Senior Health & Wellness Center.

“The valet parking is wonderful. Seniors don’t have to worry about parking,” said Estell, who said she doesn’t drive much anymore. A friend drove her to Fort Worth for this visit.

“The good thing is they can find your car when you’re ready to leave,” Estell added with a laugh.

Opened in March 2014, the new clinic caters to the growing elderly population in North Texas. It provides a continuum of care for senior patients who need primary care or quick follow-up after an emergency room visit, such as additional lab work or X-rays. There are two consultation rooms where patients and their families can talk with physicians and nurses about treatment and diagnosis, and eight examination rooms.

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“The clinic was designed specifically with the senior population in mind, from the taller height of the chairs to the lighting and colors. We also have roll-on scales for patients in wheelchairs,” Sanders said.

The clinic’s comprehensive wellness exams will evaluate a senior’s functional ability, physical health, cognition and mental health, and environmental circumstances. Services include geriatric assessments, functional assessments, fall risk assessments, hearing and vision tests and clinical preventive services.

The clinic also provides education on topics such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, advanced care planning, diabetes, heart disease, medication management, depression, hip and knee replacement and caregiver support.

“You’ve thought of everything,” Estell said. “There aren’t enough clinics to help seniors, and to have this all in one place is great. Everything about it is intended to help people.”

The center’s medical director, Dr. Aparna Kotamarti, came on board in January. She has been practicing geriatric medicine for nearly two decades and believes in partnering with patients to promote a healthier and more meaningful life.

“I was very impressed when I saw this place. There’s so much love here,” Kotamarti said. “It’s really helping people. You can feel that here.”

Estell agreed.

“You do feel the love here,” she said. “Mother was always so proud of this hospital. She said she had a feeling they were very compassionate here. She said she chose this hospital because she knew the doctor and knew he was good and because it seemed to be such a kind, compassionate place. I think you can feel that today. I’m thrilled to be a part of the history of this hospital.”

As a historian, Estell has written a book on the history of Rockdale and another on the history of Marshall, Texas. She was honored two years ago with the Historic Preservation Medal by the Daughters of the American Revolution for a book she co-wrote on El Camino Real de los Tejas, the royal road of the Tejas Indians. Also known as Kings Highway, the historic trail became a major thoroughfare during the Spanish colonial period from 1690 to 1821.

Estell was the driving force behind Milam County’s receipt of the first National Park Service signage to mark the historic road.

“I love history. I think historic preservation is so important,” she said. “Freedom is not free. Freedom has to be re-earned by every generation. They’re not going to want to fight for freedom if they don’t know their heritage. I think it’s our obligation to teach them that. It’s important to serve our nation as long as we can. That’s why I hope I work ‘til the last day I live.”