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February 26, 2003


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 notes.

"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 the world.

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," he notes.

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."

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