Dr. Janet B. Hardy

The Hopkins researcher and pediatric epidemiologist pioneered studies that led to healthier newborns.

October 31, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Dr. Janet B. Hardy, a nationally known Johns Hopkins medical researcher and pediatric epidemiologist whose Collaborative Perinatal Project heavily influenced the development of neonatology and fetal medicine, died of complications from a stroke Oct. 23 at Glen Meadows retirement community. She was 92.

"Janet Hardy was the pioneer in linking maternal age, nutrition and health with fetal development and early child development," said Dr. George J. Dover, director of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and chairman of the department of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

"Her determination and tenacity yielded research findings that have benefited generations of healthier newborns, children and adults," he said.

Dr. Hardy, the daughter of an internist, was born in Duncan, British Columbia, and raised in Victoria, British Columbia.

She said she decided on pursuing a medical career after her father told her, "No daughter of mine is ever going to be a physician."

Dr. Hardy was a 1937 graduate of the University of British Columbia and earned her medical degree from McGill University's medical school in 1941.

She interned for a year at the Children's Memorial Hospital in Montreal before joining the staff of the Harriet Lane Home of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1942.

In 1944, she became director of the tuberculosis clinic at the home and was the first pediatrician to serve as director of the nursery for newborn children at Hopkins from 1945 to 1949.

In 1951, she left Hopkins when she was appointed director of the Baltimore City Health Department's Bureau of Child Hygiene and later became assistant commissioner of health for preventive medicine.

Dr. Hardy returned to Hopkins in 1957 when she became director of the Collaborative Perinatal Project, or CPP, a federal 12-site study, and a rubella study that followed about 60,000 pregnant women and their 58,000 children for two decades.

The purpose of the study sought to find answers to the high rates of premature births and maternal and infant mortality that was commonplace in America during the 1950s.

"It was estimated that some 20 million Americans suffered from disabilities, including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, mental retardation, and defects of vision, hearing, learning, and communication," according to a profile of Dr. Hardy that was published by the Johns Hopkins Magazine in 2005.

"The high infant mortality rate was 29 per 1,000 lives and no one had any idea why. There was no systematic analysis or pediatric research," Dr. Dover said.

For her study, Dr. Hardy turned to the "huge number of pregnant women in East Baltimore," Dr. Dover said.

Doctors examining children who remained in the study for seven or eight years checked for "origins of such neurological and sensory disorders as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and learning disorders," according to the magazine profile.

Pregnant mothers who visited Hopkins once a month for checkups donated blood samples, and at birth umbilical cord samples were taken.

"She had the insight to collect and store away plasma and blood samples," Dr. Dover said.

Even though participants in the study were unpaid and sometimes stopped coming or moved away, Dr. Hardy diligently followed up on them.

"She sent taxis to their doors to ferry them to doctors' appointments and always remembered to send birthday and Christmas cards. 'Thank you for coming,' Hardy and her staff always told the women. 'Without your help there would be no study,' " the magazine reported.

Data collected from the study revealed what drugs were unsafe for pregnant mothers and how damaging rubella and other infectious diseases could be to fetuses.

"She proved that many chronic adult diseases had their origins in the uterus," Dr. Dover said.

Well into the 1980s, Dr. Hardy and her colleagues at Hopkins were still tracking participants from the original study and their children and grandchildren.

Alarmed by the high national rate of teen pregnancies in the late 1970s, Dr. Hardy became director of the Johns Hopkins Adolescent Pregnancy and Pregnancy Prevention Program.

The program targeted two city schools, Dunbar High and Lombard Junior High. Students were exposed to sex education, counseling and birth control.

By the early 1990s, births to school-age mothers in Baltimore were declining.

"It is really good news that, at long last, there may be a break in the slow but steady increase in births to adolescents," Dr. Hardy wrote in an Evening Sun op-ed page piece in 1991. "Moreover, the decrease is marked among the youngest and most vulnerable girls, those from 10 to 15 years old."

Among other of Dr. Hardy's substantial achievements, she was the fifth woman to be given the rank of full professor at the Johns Hopkins Medical School.

Dr. Hardy, who remained an indefatigable researcher, continued publishing in academic journals until recent years.

Officially retired in 1981, Dr. Hardy, who was given professor emeritus status, continued working at Hopkins another 20 years, and reopened her CPP databank in the early 1990s to track the original members and their children of the 1957 CPP study.

She and her husband of 69 years, Dr. Paul H. Hardy, a retired Hopkins microbiologist, lived on their 35-acre farm in Glen Arm, where they raised horses and canned their own jam.

In 2004, they moved to the Glen Meadows retirement community, 11630 Glen Arm Road, where a memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. tomorrow.

Also surviving are a son, David B. Hardy of Northampton, Mass.; a daughter, Janet H. "Jenny" Thayer of Glen Arm; a sister, Christine MacLean of Victoria; and three grandchildren.

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