Dr. James D. Hardy served as chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson from its opening in 1955 until his retirement in 1987. Hardy and a team of surgeons from the medical center performed the world’s first lung transplant in 1963. The patient lived for eighteen days before dying of kidney failure. The following year Hardy performed the world’s first heart transplant when he and his team took the heart from a chimpanzee and transplanted it to a man dying of heart disease, who lived for eighteen days.
Hardy grew up in Newala, Alabama, about thirty-five miles south of Birmingham, where his father owned a lime manufacturing plant. He graduated from the University of Alabama and from medical school at the University of Pennsylvania before serving in the military during World War II. He subsequently did a surgical residency at Penn, finishing in 1951, and became the director of surgical research at the University of Tennessee. In 1953 Dr. David Pankratz, dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Mississippi, tapped Hardy to chair the Department of Surgery at the nascent University of Mississippi Medical Center. Hardy, by then married to Louise Scott Sams Hardy and the father of four daughters, moved his family to Jackson in 1955.
Recognizing that organ transplantation was the next advancement in surgery, Hardy began equipping labs for transplant research. From 1956 to 1963 Hardy, along with Drs. Watts Webb, Martin Dalton, and Fikri Alican, performed nearly one thousand lung transplants in animals. He sought permission from the medical center’s vice chancellor, Dr. Robert Marston, to proceed to human lung transplantation, assuring Marston that the team would follow prescribed guidelines, which included finding a recipient who had a fatal disease and who would benefit from the transplant. John Russell met all the criteria and agreed to the surgery, which was performed on 12 June 1963. Though Russell died less than three weeks later, Hardy considered the operation a success because the lung was still functioning with no signs of rejection at his death. The transplant attracted little local notice, however, because of Medgar Evers’s murder, which occurred the same night.
With the success of the lung transplant, Hardy wanted to do a human heart transplant. He again got permission and readied surgical teams to take care of both the donor and the recipient. On 23 January 1964 Boyd Rush, the patient Hardy had identified as a heart recipient, was dying of heart failure. Because of difficulties in obtaining a donor human heart, however, Hardy decided to proceed with a chimpanzee’s heart, which beat for ninety minutes before failing.
Hardy had prepared himself for a certain amount of criticism, but he thought most of it would come from the general public. He did not count on the outcry from his colleagues. He was maligned at national surgical meetings and his clinical integrity was questioned. The criticism abated after Journal of the American Medical Association published a June 1964 paper wherein Hardy detailed the strict guidelines he used in selecting both donor and recipient, his work in the labs leading up to transplant, and the strong scientific basis for the act.
A national moratorium on organ transplantation followed Hardy’s heart transplant because doctors still had to overcome the problem of organ rejection, but his pioneering work played a vital role in making organ transplants the viable clinical option that they have become.
Hardy amassed a scholarly record that is rarely equaled. He wrote or edited twenty-three books, including two autobiographies, and published nearly six hundred papers in medical journals. He served as president of every major surgical society in the world prior to his death on 19 February 2003.
- Martin Dalton, Annals of Thoracic Surgery (November 1995)
- James D. Hardy, The World of Surgery, 1945–1985: Memoirs of One Participant (1986)
- Mary Jo Festle, Journal of Mississippi History (Summer 2002)
- Jurgen Thorwald, The Patients (1971)