James Hardy

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In Memorium

James D. Hardy, MD
May 14, 1918 - Feb. 19, 2003

Remarks at the March, 3, 2003, Memorial Service at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine

Dr. HardyDr. James D. Hardy, the first professor of surgery at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine and one of the founding faculty members of the medical school, died February 19, 2003. I’m privileged to have the opportunity to say a few words about Dr. Hardy. Like me, there are residents, new faculty, and support staff in the Department of Surgery who knew Dr. Hardy a shorter time than many of you who are here. In my case, the first meeting I had with Dr. Hardy was during the summer of 1998, as I was being interviewed for the job that I occupy currently. I asked to meet with Dr. Hardy, and prior to the meeting, I obtained and read a copy of his autobiography. Dr. Hardy was on the way to becoming one of my heroes.

Dr. Hardy's life was gigantic. He produced 24 books, 139 book chapters, 466 papers and over 200 films. He held 36 visiting professorships, and he presented 37 invited lectureships. He was president of most of the major surgical societies in the world including the American College of Surgeons. He was a “physiological surgeon” (his words) in the mold of Wangensteen, Dragstedt, Blalock and Moore. He was a memorable teacher, an exemplary father and a devoted husband.

Dr. Hardy's life is inspirational. It is sustaining as a means of surviving disappointment and fatigue. It is humbling in its ability to demonstrate what the human spirit can do when expressed at its finest. Dr. Hardy had the persistence to nurture and to bring to life a vision. He described that vision thusly:

“I had a very clear idea of what I hoped to do with the Department of Surgery. Teaching, patient care, and research would all be given strong emphasis …. All decisions would be made solely on the basis of what was good for the Department of Surgery and the Medical Center…. We planned to provide the students and residents with a broad spectrum of learning and experience that would enable them to be whatever they wished to be…. To achieve these objectives, we obviously had to have not only good patient care but effective and ongoing research. Above all, I and my colleagues in surgery were dedicated to ensuring that our residents would be able to operate and take care of patients effectively when they completed their training…. Each surgical resident was required to spend a few months on a research project, following which he could spend additional time in the laboratory if he had found some problem he wished to pursue further…. The objectives were to have the resident learn how to derive statistically valid data, and how to write a paper for publication and present the work at some national meeting…. I believed then, and still do, that such laboratory experience enriches the physician's critical approach to the physiologic management of his patient, and this program was, on the whole, very successful.”

In the early days of our institution, and in those first decades that he was our department's first chairman, Dr. Hardy faced enormous hurdles. There were the scientific shortcomings that had to be overcome in the establishment of the new field of heart surgery. Dr. Hardy was one of the participants in the birth of modern heart surgery. There were the ethical questions raised by the scientific achievements in the new field of solid organ transplantation. Dr. Hardy found himself in the eye of a scientific and ethical storm involving transplantation of the heart. The tempest that surrounded the first human heart transplant involving a graft from a chimpanzee touched people all over the world. Throughout this, Dr. Hardy never lost his focus on his vision or his resolve to bring that vision to reality.

What is most remarkable to me is that Dr. Hardy overcame these formidable scientific and ethical challenges during a period in our state's history when societal upheaval threatened to consume everything. While Dr. Hardy and his colleagues were working out the techniques of lung transplantation in our department's laboratories in 1962, the Battle of Oxford raged over the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. The Hardy laboratories produced some of the most important work in the field of lung transplantation.

Dr. Hardy forged onward. He performed the world's first human lung transplant in 1963 on the night that Medgar Evers died in our University Hospital's emergency room. Dr. Hardy's chief resident, Dr. Martin Dalton, left the operating room in an attempt to save Mr. Evers' life. When Dr. Hardy emerged from having successfully completed this climax to years of laboratory effort, he found that the clamor outside the operating room suite was not about the world's first lung transplant, but about the horrific thing that had just happened. News of the lung transplant appeared in the bottom corner of the front page of the newspaper. However, Dr. Hardy had just opened one of history's great doors from the Mississippi side.

Dr. Hardy kept working. Seven months later, he performed the first human heart transplant in January 1964. The ethical debate that this operation incited may have been temporarily overshadowed only by the events of Freedom Summer, 1964. But the operation demonstrated that a heart transplant could be performed in a human being. A second historical door had been opened from the Mississippi side.

The teams involved in these operations trained in Dr. Hardy's laboratories. The operative procedures were literally transported from the laboratories. Mrs. Ruby Nell Winters, a nurse who was scrubbed on the first heart transplant, has joined us to celebrate Dr. Hardy. She was part of a team of incredible people. During the heart transplant, Dr. Hardy polled them while the patient was on cardiopulmonary bypass concerning the propriety of doing a xenographic transplant. They made a decision that changed things forever.

Over the ensuing years, countless patients benefited from Dr. Hardy's expertise as a surgeon, as a teacher, and as a scientist. His trainees fanned out all over the world. Dr. Hardy's publications and his lectureships told the story of the remarkable achievements that were occurring in the Department of Surgery at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine. Our state continued to struggle with its demons, but in this fledgling medical school in the most southern place on earth, Dr. Hardy became a world-renowned figure, inspiring respect for our institution and for what was being accomplished here.

Dr. Hardy weathered the ethical storm that his pioneering work incited and the social upheaval that gripped our state. Many people came to stand on his broad shoulders. Countless numbers benefited as the patients Dr. Hardy treated, as the surgeons, nurses and technicians whom Dr. Hardy trained, and as those of us whom he continues to inspire.

Dr. Hardy's memory will become richer as our appreciation of the historical perspective of his life grows. The Department of Surgery could have had no better person to be its first professor than Dr. Hardy. Our state was fortunate beyond measure to have had such a citizen devote his life to us.

Having spent time reading and viewing his voluminous work, I am convinced that Dr. Hardy realized from an early age that his was a life destined to matter significantly. Perhaps unconsciously, he was compelled to record that life in so many different ways - personal journals, correspondence, publications, films, talks, and the training of students. That compulsion has left us with a record of priceless value. There will always be something that we can learn from Dr. Hardy.

One of the last things that Dr. Hardy said to his daughters as he was close to death was a comment about his life … “I had a good run.” Run you did Dr. Hardy, and you did not stumble in a remarkable and inspirational pursuit of a vision. Your department is honored to celebrate your life, and we will never forget you.

"The World of Surgery 1945-85: Memoirs of One Participant," James D. Hardy, MD