When Primary Care Provider Rachel Prusak, FNP met patient Lucille Blende, 95, last autumn she knew she was going to be in for a treat. “Right off the bat I knew that Lucille was an extremely sharp woman,” Prusak said. Over the months that followed, she would come to fully understand the truth of that first impression.
Prusak was amazed by the stories that Blende, a former engineer, shared about her work on nuclear propulsion, especially with the MDD Group, a private contractor that specialized in missile development. Later, this group would evolve into what is known today as NASA.
Father identified gifts early on
Blende’s childhood was typical of those who grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania in the 1920s. “You learn responsibility fast, very fast,” she said. By four or five years old Blende would frequently accompany her father, an Italian immigrant, to the market in a horse and buggy to sell their vegetables. “By seven, I was the one tasked with going to the bank and making the deposits. I guess I was my dad’s girl,” she chuckled.
More likely her father realized early on that his youngest daughter had an eye for numbers and was helping to foster that gift. It appears his strategy paid off.
Blende made a career for herself as an engineer working on early transistor technology in the 1950s, which culminated in her greatest professional accomplishment: helping to create and test the integrated circuits and transistors which made it possible for the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, to complete a submerged transit of the North Pole.
Professional experiences mirrored in film
Upon learning Blende’s story, Prusak decided to call in a favor from a Hollywood connection to give her homebound patient a special treat. “I was able to be sent a copy of the film Hidden Figures, even though it was still only playing in theaters,” she said.
The movie tells the story of three African American women who served vital roles as NASA mathematicians during the early years of the U.S. space program. It struck a chord with Blende, who understood much of what the women went through.
“It brought back so many memories,” Blende said. “Sadly, now almost sixty years later, I still wonder if this country will ever give women the credit that they so deserve.”
A woman in a man’s field
Blende was one of two women in her class at University of Pennsylvania to study mechanical and electrical engineering. She was hired by Westinghouse right out of college as a draftsperson and stayed for ten years before moving to General Motors where she was an inspector for a few years. But, it was her interest in aeronautics that drew her to California where she landed a job with the MDD Group.
“We would drive up to San Gabrielle Mountains to perform the first nuclear tests and all of us had to wear radiation badges to make sure we were always at a safe level of exposure,” she remembered. “That was the very beginning of the space program.”
Blende has been receiving in-home medical care from Housecall Providers ever since the rides to and from her doctor’s office became too painful. She recently started receiving palliative care services in addition to a monthly house call.
“I appreciate the care I have received from the staff of Housecall Providers this past year,” Blende said. “They are all very friendly and knowledgeable and I look forward to their visits.” For Prusak, meeting amazing people like Housecall Providers’ own “Hidden Figure” is just one of the perks of the job.