Harper Keith Hellems
Class of 1937
Harper was born in Sinks Grove, West Virginia on March 16, 1920. He graduated from Greenbrier High School, Ronceverte, WV in 1937. He was the son of Nilah and Kem Hellems, Fairlea, WV where his father ran a car glass and upholstery business. He and his first wife Anne Alexia Wheatley, a graduate of Greenbrier High School in 1938, had three children, Harper Jr., Eric, and Kem. Kem was killed in an automobile accident in his teens. Harper and Anne divorced and he later Martha Cooper. He graduated from the University of Virginia College of Arts and Science in 1940 and the University of Virginia Medical School in 1943. While in medical school, Harper was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha. He carried out internship at the Montreal General Hospital. He spent five months as a Medical Officer in the Navy and then became a Research Assistant with the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. He then carried out a research fellowship and internal medicine training at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and the West Roxbury Veterans Hospital in Boston as part of the teaching programs at Harvard Medical School. While only at Harvard for only four years, Harper performed an astounding number of elegant studies in the area of cardiac physiology with Dr. Lewis Dexter (also a member of the American Clinical and Climatological Association). They used arterial and venous catheterization to study pulmonary capillary pressure, establishing the value of the Swan-Ganz catheter a standard tool today to determine cardiovascular status and to guide therapy. Their landmark studies resulted in a large number of scientific publications in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, American Journal of Physiology, Journal of Applied Physiology, American Heart Journal and Circulation.
In 1950 Harper left Harvard to assume responsibilities as an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Wayne State University College of Medicine in Detroit. He was promoted to Associate Professor at that institution in 1955. In 1960, Harper left Detroit to become Professor of Medicine and Director of Division of Cardiovascular Diseases at the New Jersey College of Medicine (formerly Seton Hall College of Medicine) in Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1965 he moved to Jackson, Mississippi to become Professor and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine and Physician-in-Chief at the University Hospital in Jackson. When arriving in Jackson, the department was small consisting of only 17 full-time faculty members. When he retired in 1990 the department had 76 full-time faculty and grant support for research had increased from approximately $375,000 to more than $2.5 million annually. At the time of his retirement, the school's dean, Dr. A. Wallace Conerly, estimated that Harper had trained 75% of the all board certified internists in Mississippi.
Harper was a fellow and Master of the American College of Physicians and a fellow of the American College of Cardiology. He was the author of 177 scientific and professional publications. He served on the National Institutes of Health Cardiovascular Study Section 1962-6 and the Fogarty International Fellowship Review Committee for the Fogarty International Center, 1968-72. He received the Theodore and Susan Cummings Award of the American College of Cardiology, 1964 and 1967 and the Founders Medal of the Southern Society of Clinical Investigation in 1989. He was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, the American Physiological Society, the Association of University Cardiologists and in 1968 was elected to membership in the American Clinical and Climatological Association.
On February 19 1999 while in Jackson, Mississippi, Harper died of congestive heart failure at the age of 78.
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