Monday, February 8, 2016

Hardy Hendren, legendary children's surgeon, turns 90

I was delighted to join many good friends of Eleanor and Hardy Hendren on Sunday, February 7, at their Duxbury home to celebrate Hardy's 90th birthday. Ninety! And this now-retired giant of surgery is still going strong, if no longer picking up the scalpel at Boston Children's Hospital, where he was Chief of Surgery for many years, while also holding a surgery professorship at Harvard Medical School, among many other titles. He is emeritus at both institutions.

Eleanor asked me to say a few words, and I was honored to pay tribute to a man who has done "more good for more people over more years," as I phrased it, than anyone I have ever known. In the tens of thousands of patients he healed, in the countless young doctors he trained and mentored and who went on to heal so many more, and quietly with his generous contributions to individuals and causes, this is demonstrably true.

I met Hardy more than a quarter of a century ago, and his invitation to immerse myself in his world without precondition or limitation was not just a stroke of luck -- it was a watershed in my non-fiction writing career. For some two years, I followed him outside and inside Children's, during office visits and lectures and Grand Rounds and hundreds of hours in his operating room, where surgery on his most complicated cases -- separating conjoined twins, for example -- often lasted for more than 24 hours. I had my own Children's ID and locker in the surgeons' quarters. I received signed permission for every adult patient and the guardians of children whose operations I observed, but still, this would not be possible today with contemporary privacy-patient rules.

The resulting 1991 Providence Journal newspaper series, "Working Wonders," and the 1993 book THE WORK OF HUMAN HANDS: Hardy Hendren and Surgical Wonder at Children's Hospital (since updated and republished in several editions), launched me into my non-fiction book-writing career. Interestingly, THE WORK OF HUMAN HANDS was the very first book purchased by a then-junior editor at Random House, Jon Karp. I did three more books with Jon: COMING OF AGE, TOY WARS and KING OF HEARTS, which began when I met open-heart pioneer Dr. C. Walton Lillehei at a lecture and dinner sponsored by Hardy at Children's. Jon is now president and publisher of Simon & Schuster, where a couple of years ago he published my co-written book, TOP BRAIN, BOTTOM BRAIN.

But I digress. The point is, Hardy helped make all this possible, and I am deeply indebted. He has been a dear friend for all these many years, and I am grateful for that, too. He and the lovely Eleanor have welcomed me into their family. What more could a writer -- and friend -- want?! Thanks Hardy and Eleanor. Here's to many more.

Hardy and Eleanor at start of the party.

Surgical humor!

Hardy, Eleanor and me.

He blew 'em all out in one breath!

Hardy's son David, center, and his dad.


A later edition of the book.

Join me on another visit to Hardy's, three years ago.

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