William E. Harmon, MD
July 31, 1943 - May 29, 2016
It is with great sadness that we report that William Harmon, MD, passed away Friday at the age of 72, following a long-term chronic illness. Dr. Harmon has served as Senior Associate in Pediatrics since 2013, when he completed an extraordinary tenure of 25 years as Boston Children's Hospital's Nephrologist-in-Chief. He was also Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, where he held the Warren E. Grupe Chair in Pediatric Nephrology. He is remembered as a good friend and a valued colleague—a man of incredible grit and determination, who was always outspoken if the cause was just.
"Bill always had the right best interests at heart," says Physician-in-Chief Gary Fleisher, MD. "As a physician, he was completely dedicated to his patients. As a Division Chief, he was unfailingly loyal to his doctors and nurses."
Dr. Harmon began his career at Boston Children's in 1971 as an intern. In 1979, after Junior and Senior Residencies and Clinical and Research Fellowships, he was appointed the first Director of Boston Children's Dialysis Unit. That appointment began a lifelong commitment to the care and study of children with end-stage renal disease. He pioneered techniques and devices to adapt hemodialysis for the care of infants and young children. Quickly recognizing that dialysis was an imperfect treatment for children, he championed renal transplantation programs.
In doing so, Dr. Harmon became the first pediatrician to serve as Chairman of the New England Organ Bank’s Board of Directors, and the first to serve as Secretary Treasurer of the American Society of Transplantation, an organization he would come to lead as its president. He was appointed the first Chairman of the permanent Pediatric Committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
Throughout, Dr. Harmon continued to work his way up through a series of increasing leadership roles, culminating in his quarter-century of service as Nephrologist-in-Chief from 1987 to 2013, and most recently, President of the Physicians' Organization. "When many would have been happy to slow down, Bill volunteered to take on the leadership of the PO in the most challenging times we have experienced in decades," says President and CEO Sandra L. Fenwick. "He helped broaden and deepen understanding across the physician community of the threats and profound changes facing academic medicine and supported a strong coalition of hospital and physicians to ensure Boston Children’s future. His leadership had a significant impact on the lives of the children and families we serve."
Under Dr. Harmon's leadership, the Division of Nephrology played a key role in ensuring that children under 18 receive priority status on kidney waiting lists. It has developed the largest and most active kidney transplant clinical trials group in the nation, as well as the largest pediatric nephrology training program in the country. The Division has been ranked #1 in the annual U.S.News and World Report "Best Children's Hospitals" survey repeatedly, and the Kidney Transplant Program has been honored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a national leader in the field, all while Dr. Harmon continued his groundbreaking research into improving outcomes and decreasing complications of kidney transplantation in children.
In 2002, his work with the P.O. was critical to moving the Department of Medicine to the Foundation model, as he proved to be equally savvy in negotiating physician payments and revenue management as he was in treating patients and conducting world-changing research.
Dr. Harmon's contributions to the field of nephrology and to Boston Children's have been tremendous, as was his refusal to let his health impact his work. Despite his chronic illness, Dr. Harmon still attended 6 months out of the year, and was still reviewing grants and connecting with the NIH about his research, even in his final days.
Dr. Fleisher recalls times when Dr. Harmon would see patients all morning, then run over to the Brigham to get a blood transfusion, then return to see more patients. "Some days, he was so sick, I don't know what kept him going," Fleisher says. "But he loved his work, he loved his patients and he didn't want to be beaten by anything." On his worst days, when asked how he was feeling, Dr. Harmon would still inevitably respond "Never been better."
Longtime friend and colleague, Associate Physician-in-Chief Fred Lovejoy, MD, describes Dr. Harmon as "a tremendous servant to this hospital, the Department of Medicine, the field of Nephrology and patients with kidney disease around the world. He was a genuine person, and a true force for good at Boston Children's."
In lieu of flowers, Dr. Harmon's family requests contributions to be made in his honor to the "Division of Nephrology" at Boston Children's Hospital for "Kidney Transplant Clinical Research".
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