The University of Mississippi Medical Center has been home to some of the greatest innovations in cardiothoracic and transplant surgery, including two of the world’s first organ transplants by Dr. James D. Hardy.
After becoming the first chair of the department of surgery in 1955, Dr. James D. Hardy, was off and running. The University of Mississippi performed the state’s first heart surgery in 1959. More remarkably, just a few years later, Dr. Hardy and his team performed the world’s first lung transplant on June 11, 1963. This was followed by the world’s first heart transplant in January of 1964. While neither of the patients survived long-term (the lung transplant patient died of renal failure 18 days after transplantation, and the heart recipient survived only 90 minutes) these were breakthroughs in the field of surgery. Both of these procedures have changed surgery immeasurably, by lifting the ceiling of our expectations and possibilities. The entire specialty of transplantation was born that hot, humid summer night, here in Jackson, Mississippi*. The cardiac transplant itself opened the door to even further research into xenotransplantation (the initial transplant was a chimpanzee heart to a person). Of course, neither of these surgeries were without considerable controversy at the time – the lung transplant recipient was an incarcerated felon (mirroring some of the current ethical dilemmas faced today by correctional health). The heart transplant sparked an international outcry similar to Baby Fae twenty years later (1984), if only much, much greater in intensity.
Today, the campus itself is large and sprawling, easily located just off I-55 and across the street from the Sonny Montgomery VA facility. St. Dominic’s hospital is visible from the parking lot.
The cardiothoracic surgery program at the University of Mississippi remains alive and well with four cardiothoracic surgeons, performing a range of procedures including a small number of heart transplants. University of Mississippi continues to be the only transplant center in the state – and according to the organ procurement and transplant network performed 9 heart transplants, but did not report any lung transplant or heart lung transplants since 1990.
(I did not have a chance to talk to the surgeons at the University of Mississippi during this brief visit. I hope to return in the future to talk about current programs, and what impact this history has made on medicine and surgery at the University of Mississippi.)
References and Additional Resources:
There is also the James Hardy library on the campus (in the James D. Hardy building) that holds copies of all of his articles, books and even films of the first transplants. (It’s really just one room but it’s crammed full of all sorts of interesting artifacts from the early days of heart / lung surgery.) They keep it locked normally, but are happy to unlock it for any interested visitors. Ms. Neill is one of the people in charge of the artifacts and she tells me that they are working on cataloging and compiling the original films for eventual posting on the internet. There’s even a plaque on the operating room door where the original surgery was performed – along with framed pictures of the surgery, and even one of the patient (lung transplant); awake and looking pretty good on day 3 after surgery.
* The first kidney transplant was in 1954.