Fifty Years of Heart Care Progress:
J. Willis Hurst MD, One of The Emory Clinic's Founders, Discusses
Innovations Over Half A Century
ATLANTA --- In l953, cardiologist J. Willis Hurst, MD (a member of the
Emory faculty since l950) saw along with other faculty members something
new and potentially revolutionary on the medical horizon for Atlanta
≠- an opportunity to transform how medical care was delivered by combining
the best clinical care with medical education and research.
Dr. Hurst joined with another
famed cardiology pioneer, R. Bruce Logue, MD, and 16 other Emory faculty
members to found the Emory Clinic, the first integrated full-service
medical center in Atlanta. "I first learned about the future Clinic
from Dr. Logue when I was a fellow in cardiology with Paul White, MD,
at the Massachusetts General Hospital in the late l940s," Dr. Hurst
"Dr. Logue and Dr. Hurst
were here from the beginning -- not only helping countless patients
but also, over the years, helping to train the vast majority of cardiologists
in the state," says Douglas Morris, M.D., director of the Emory Heart
Center and holder of the J. Willis Hurst Professorship in Cardiology.
"They also participated in many of the cardiology advances that enable
The Emory Clinic to provide some of the best heart care in the nation."
At 82, Dr. Hurst is still
going strong. Heís up at 4:00 a.m. and at work by 6:00 a.m., sharing
his knowledge with house officers and medical students. Chairman of
Emoryís Department of Medicine from l957 to l986, he created the medical
textbook The Heart, first published in l967. "Dr. Logue played a major
role in the early editions of this book, too," Dr. Hurst notes. The
book is now named Hurstís The Heart and Wayne Alexander, MD., the current
Chairman of Medicine at Emory is the editor-in-chief.
Even before The Emory Clinic
opened its doors, founders Dr. Logue and Dr. Hurst had earned reputations
as innovators in cardiology. Often called the father of cardiology at
Emory, Dr. Logue helped establish a strong relationship between cardiology
and cardiac surgery, served as founding president of the Georgia Heart
Association, and established Emoryís first cardiology fellowship program
in l947. Dr. Hurst developed the worldís first standardized digitalis
(digoxin) preparation for children in l951. Working to save the life
of a patient with mitral valve stenosis, Dr. Hurst consulted with Emory
surgeon Osler Abbott ≠ the result was the Southís first intracardiac
operation, successful performed by Dr. Abbott and William Hopkins, MD,
on February 14, l951.
"Back then, there were not
more than half a dozen cardiologists in Atlanta. Dr. Logue and I were
the two cardiologists for the Department of Medicine and we earned our
income by seeing private patients in consultations ≠ unlike today, patients
had to be referred by a doctor. And there were no pediatric cardiologists
in the state, so we also saw children with heart problems at the Clinic,"
Dr. Hurst says, recalling the early l950s at Emory.. "Dr. Robert Grant
and Dr. James Warren were still here then. They were great researchers
and brought much national recognition to Emory."
In l954, Dr. Hurst left The
Emory Clinic for a stint in the armed forces. He was assigned to the
U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, where he first treated future
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson (and continued to be Johnsonís cardiologist
for l8 years). Dr. Hurst decided to return to Emory and the Clinic in
the late l950s. It was a time, he admits, of change and some administrative
turmoil. "I thought about leaving ≠ in fact the Mayo Clinic was trying
to entice me to go there ≠ but I felt I needed to stay because Emory
was in my blood and my association with Dr. Logue was unequalled anywhere
else, "says Dr. Hurst.
Dr. Hurst was soon named
Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine. It was a decision
that would profoundly affect the history of cardiology at Emory and
The Emory Clinic. "One of the first things I did as Chairman was develop
a cardiac catheterization lab on the Emory campus, located in the Woodruff
Research Building connected to the hospital. It was the first cardiac
cath lab in the city in a private facility, and was headed by Robert
H. Franch, MD," Dr. Hurst says. Another of Dr. Hurstís innovations:
He established post-graduate cardiology courses that attracted practicing
physicians from all over the country and, increasingly, from all over
As Department Chairman, Dr.
Hurst also added to the number of cardiologists at Emory. "One of the
enticements I could use to recruit top cardiologists was The Emory Clinic
≠ physicians had the opportunity to work part of the time or all the
time in the Clinic and they could also do research. Part of the package
we negotiated when we recruited them was that we expected them to teach,
too," Dr. Hurst says. "A result of this was that patients coming to
the Clinic for care often were seen by doctors who participated first-hand
in some of the great research and advancements that have changed cardiology."
Perhaps Dr. Hurstís most
famous recruitment coup was bringing angioplasty pioneer Andreas Gruentzig,
MD to Emory. "He was the first person to do angioplasty and when I was
alerted by to his work in Switzerland by Dr. Spencer King, I knew he
would be a great asset. He joined us in l980," Dr.. Hurst says. "And,
until his death in l985, he worked side by side with other Emory faculty
further researching, refining and teaching angioplasty ≠ and Emory has
carried on research and work in this field, becoming an international
leader in interventional cardiology."
Looking back on the last
half century, Dr. Hurst notes that while some things have dramatically
changed, the standard of cardiology care at Emory Clinic has remained
consistently high. "Every year since l950, we have delivered the best
that is known in cardiology at that particular time, "he says. "What
has changed is the enormous national and international research that
has provided remarkable new insights. And every time since l950 when
there have been dramatic changes, Emory has certainly been in the vanguard
of delivering what has been created in the research arena -- and Emory
has actually participated in much of the leading research."
Dr. Hurst also emphasizes
that cardiology, as well as many other services at Grady Memorial Hospital,
Emory Crawford Long Hospital and the Atlanta VA Medical Center have
progressed to match that at Emory University Hospital. "And many of
the faculty at those institutions are members of the Emory Clinic,"
What will the next 50 years
hold for the Emory Clinic? "I believe the Emory Clinic, like Atlanta,
will continue to thrive. As time passes, it will be considered the best
of its kind in the country," he says. "Cardiology at Emory is in the
very good hands of Wayne Alexander, MD, Chairman of the Department of
Medicine, David Harrison, MD, Director of Cardiology and Douglas Morris,
MD, Director of the Emory Heart Center."