Bette Ferguson has been alive for 92 years, and if you ask her about it, she’ll recount them in vivid detail. She was born on a World War I troopship as it sailed back to the United States, lived in every state in the country — including Alaska and Hawaii — and worked as a waitress, a computer technician and an extra in The Wizard of Oz movie.
And don’t get her started about her husbands.
She leans back in her easy chair in her tiny brown-carpeted room in a Mission Hills low-income retirement home, runs her hand through her spiky gray hair and cackles.
“Which one?” she says. Turns out, she’s had five.
Ferguson’s ability to remember the cities she’s lived in, jobs she’s worked and, yes, all the men she’s married, makes her very valuable to Jacopo Annese, a neuroanatomist at the University of California, San Diego. Annese is director of The Brain Observatory, a research center at UCSD where brains are sliced up, laid out on slides and then scanned into digital images, which researchers can use to visualize what a variety of brains look like. Scientists can use Annese’s images to see how diseases like Alzheimer’s physically change the brain.