These are stories and letters shared by family and friends of Dr. Harmon. We also included some quotes that Dr. Harmon often said.
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Dear Harmon family, we are writing to express our deepest sympathy for your loss. Our daughter Bella was a patient of Dr. Harmon’s and we will never forget the profound impact he made on her successful outcome and our entire family.
In March 2014 we were told Bella had end stage kidney disease and would need a transplant. Until that moment Bella had been an active, athletic and healthy girl so the diagnosis was sudden and shocking. Because we live in southern Connecticut, we started Bella’s care close to home in New York. At the time we were also building a house in Kennebunkport and when we told our builder Geoff Bowley the news, he suggested we reach out to his former client, Bill Harmon at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Having grown up in metro Boston, my husband and I were aware of Children’s reputation and eager to take Geoff Bowley’s referral and reach out to Dr. Harmon but we had to motivate Bella to travel to Boston to meet yet another doctor. On that first visit, Bella was wearing a brand new pair of bright yellow sneakers and a Red Sox baseball cap. Her cheery attire was a stark contrast to her frightened and reluctant approach to the meeting. When Dr. Harmon walked into the examination room where we were all waiting, the very first thing he said was, “I bet you won’t get lost in the snow wearing those sneakers.” She cracked a smile. He then engaged Bella in a spirited discussion about the Red Sox. It was only after this genuine, no-nonsense introduction that he began to speak to Bella about kidney disease. His decision to speak “to Bella” and his side door approach, signaled to her something was different here from the hospital in New York.
Attached is a photo of Bella’s bright yellow sneakers which no longer fit her but which she has kept as a talisman. When we shared the sad news of Dr. Harmon’s passing with her, she went up to her room to find the sneakers and inscribed them with a message of gratitude to him. These sneakers are hanging from a flagpole outside our home in CT.
My husband Bill was ultimately cleared to donate his kidney to Bella and the transplant surgery took place on July 24, 2014. Last summer we celebrated the 1-year anniversary at our home on Goose Rocks Beach and were hopeful that you and Dr. Harmon would join us. True to his reputation, we learned that Dr. Harmon worked late at the hospital that day and then with the traffic getting out of Boston, arrived in Kennebunkport too late to join our celebration. But that night we toasted Dr. Harmon and his entire team at Boston Children’s Hospital.
As recently as a couple of months ago, we met with Dr. Harmon to discuss a major gift to support his immunosuppression research. It was Dr. Harmon’s singular expertise and express commitment to his patient’s long-term wellbeing that inspired us to explore such a relationship with BCH. We intend to carry on in his honor and to that end have met with Dr. Hildebrand and Dr. Fleisher to discuss next steps. Once the terms of our gift are finalized we hope to be in touch with you to share the details.
After reading the other stories on your website, we now understand Dr. Harmon’s love of sailing. I must say he was our anchor to windward in the stormiest of times and we will always remember him with great gratitude, respect and tenderness.
The Forrest Family
Bill, Nancie, Bella and Lulu
My deepest condolences to Dr. Harmon's family. He was larger than life, and so many people throughout the years benefited from his tireless devotion to his patients and his field. His legacy is carried on by so many of who trained under him. We will continue to pass along the knowledge and spirit which he inspired.
Megan Rashid, MD, MPH
Apologies for this crazy way of sending my sympathy, but I had to reach out. My 8 month old daughter, Julia, was a patient of your dad's. She has ESRD and we saw him many times when inpatient this past year. He was clearly so well respected by his patients and colleagues, and I could tell he was the one they turned to to discuss different treatments. I felt reassured that we were in the best hands when he walked into the room. He got a kick out of my daughter's Halloween costume- she was a two month old nurse- and I must say I had some satisfaction in making him laugh with it! He clearly had a great sense of humor, in addition to a brilliant mind. We are grateful to have known him. My sympathy to you and your family.
All our best to you and your family,
Kara, Brian and Julia Rodman
Dearest Harmon family,
We are deeply sorry to hear of Bill’s passing, a loss that we in the nephrology and transplant communities all share with you.
We met with Professor Harmon in Shanghai 2005 and in Boston Children’s Hospital 2006. He has been supporting us since the very beginning of the dialysis and transplantation center in the Children’s Hospital of Fudan university. He inspired us all the way.
Distinguished scholar, outstanding doctor, and a warm human being, William Harmon is mourned by the Chinese pediatric nephrologist community, and will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
Children’s Hospital of Fudan University
One night a few years ago I was flicking channels on the television when I saw a man who I thought I knew. It turned out to be Bill who was the doc in charge on Boston Med, Episode 7. A 4 year child had been flown in with blood on her brain and, of course, he and his team saved her life. When I saw Bill I mentioned to him how impressed I was that he saved that child's life. Bill simply and humbly stated "that's what we do." If I live to be 100, I will never forget Bill and his humble words on that day.
Cape Porpoise, Maine
Dearest Harmon family,
I am deeply sorry for your loss. Dr. Harmon was truly one of a kind. He was a pioneer in medicine whose legacy is felt not only at Boston Children’s Hospital but throughout the world. Since hearing the news and reflecting back on my training under him, it’s humbling how every decision I make in my daily practice is influenced by his teachings or research in one way or another.
What most people may not know about Dr. Harmon, unless they’ve spent some time with him, is how funny, down to earth, and sometimes even quirky he was. I still remember the first day I met him on my fellowship interview and sat in his office. From the Darth Vader mask proudly displayed in one corner, to the Arabian dagger framed on the wall, or his brand new (back then) state of the art Macbook air on his desk, there were so many random things we talked about like old friends even though I was only a wannabe nephrologist at the time and he was one of the world’s leading experts in the field. This was only the start of many more memorable times to come.
I took the liberty of using one of his photos to create this attached montage that I think celebrates him as one of the great genius minds of this century. I think he would have liked it.
My condolences and regards,
Dear Diane, Beth and Michael,
We are truly sorry for your loss. Bill was a friend for 65 years. We attended grade school, high school and college together. Our “gang of five” had many great times. There were many memorable touch football games over Thanksgiving breaks with my brother and his friends. Bill spent two years in the Jesuits which deferred his completion of college at Holy Cross. Our education overlapped at Case Western Reserve Med School. We were happy to have Bill as a groomsman at our wedding in 1969. I am sorry that we drifted apart due to geography, post graduate training and military service.
Taking care of sick children requires a special gift which Bill exemplified.
Please accept our sincere condolences.
Tom and Mary Comerford
I'm not sure where these emails will go, to Dr. Harmon's family or hospital staff. Regardless, I felt this was the best way to share how much appreciation I have for Dr. Harmon, and I was never even his patient.
My family met Dr. Harmon shortly after my sister Katelyn Colantonio was rushed to the hospital with a mystery illness. We had no idea what was going on and were terrified when doctors decided to biopsy her kidneys based on some blood test results, and found hematomas there instead, causing major blood loss and a diagnosis of kidney failure. We were horrified, confused, and worst of all: we had no idea what this meant, what was ahead, if my sister was dying or would ever lead a normal life. We were lost and terrified. Every day was worse than the day before as we slowly found out more about her condition.
Dr. Harmon gave us steady, extremely well explained advice and information in a compassionate manner. While still being serious and straightforward, Katelyn understood clearly how much he cared for her (and for my whole family), how truly invested he was in her care in every stage of treatment: diagnosis, dialysis, transplant, post transplant. He took the time to know Katelyn well. He fine tuned her treatment plan at every step and never handled us a "one size fits all" way. He kept up with Katelyn after her transplant - remembered topics she loved to talk about, like cooking and musical theater, and was sure to ask her about her progress in school.
In short, Dr. Harmon walked us through what was undoubtedly the hardest experience of our lives. Walking into a medical problem we knew nothing about, it was easy to trust him. He was clear, intelligent, and he really did care about us. I believe Katelyn's recovery would not have been as easy as it was if we had not been walked through the whole process by him. He gave us Katelyn's gift of life. We will never be able to thank him enough for this.
Wishing you all deep sympathy. He'll be greatly missed by us.
What a sad event. Fred Lovejoy and I probably knew Bill the longest here. Fred was Chief Resident in 1971-72 and I arrived here from Boston City as a senior resident just as Bill Harmon was beginning his internship.
We were on Team B, 1 intern from MGH, 2 from Children’s and I as senior resident. I think Alan Leichtner was in his HMS Peds 3rd-year clerkship or was doing a "Sub-I". There was no ICU yet. The other intern from Children's was a delightful but ineffectual Chinese man who Charlie Janeway had invited to do research here. When he decided to stay in the USA, he had to do a minimal amount of clinical rotations. One problem: his spoken and receptive English was extremely poor. That never deterred Charlie Janeway in his attempt to improve international health care.
Bill Harmon, who already had his full patient load, supervised every order that the other guy wrote in unintelligible text. Bill made me promise that if I was on with that guy, I would sleep on the floor. I would have been crazy not to. How prophetic that our sickest kid was a teen who had received immunosuppression for neophrotic syndrome and developed varicella pneumonia requiring intubation.
I could ask anything of Bill, like "another intern's patient needs to be presented at Chief's Rounds and he went home sick." Harmon would then present the case "cold" with all the labs in sequence from his memory from night coverage. There were no signout sheets then.
Bill had no facial hair and he looked ~18 yrs old at the most as an intern. Parents would ask me if he was a medical student. I would counter that, if he was, he would already be the smartest house officer in the Dept of Medicine. And the best I have ever seen in my 45 years here.
Over the years, especially when the Renal Div shared a Fegan floor with Endocrinology, Bill and I would reminisce about that rotation on Team B in '71-'72 and all the characters we shared as patients and fellow house officers and attending and some patients with living donor renal transplants working just fine after more than 15 years. There was no detail too unimportant in his patients--the same approach he took as an intern covering two patient loads in 1971-72.
His memory is a blessing and an example. He set the bar for 45 years here.
Norman P. Spack MD
Boston Children’s Hospital
To the members of Bill’s family:
I am deeply sorry to hear of Bill’s passing, a loss that we in the nephrology and transplant communities all share with you.
I was a former trainee under Bill from 1995-1998. He was my teacher and mentor. After that he was my collaborator and friend for another 18 years. He could inspire loyalty like few could. Many of his past trainees count him as perhaps the single most important professional influence in our lives. Bill was incredibly intelligent and tremendously hardworking, plus a fiery champion for children, all with a uniquely poignant sense of humor.
The attached photo is from a pediatric nephrology fellows’ graduation in 1997. All of his former fellows such as myself (on right in photo) had tremendous admiration for Bill’s towering intellect. We would try to “pick his brain” at every attempt. As shown in this photo, sometimes we went to great lengths to extract some of that brain power. My colleague fellow Stu Goldstein is holding a drill to Bill’s head for this purpose. Bill was a great sport to allow and participate in such a photo.
Quotes that I can remember:
My condolences and regards
Diane, Beth, Michael, and "Uncle Phil”,
How sad I am to offer you my deepest sympathy. However, there are so many great memories of growing up with Bill and staying in touch with him over these 65 years, that I hope that sharing some of these with you will bring some new fond memories of Bill.
Bill and I met in the third grade at St. Raphael’s in Bay Village and remained life-long friends until our last exchange of texts in March. We were daily playmates, teammates, and classmates; Bill, quarterbacking our football team, playing guard on our basketball team where he gashed his head in St. Raphael’s gym, running on our 400 meter relay team, and catching on our school and Bay Village baseball teams, where he devised a signal to the pitcher when Bill didn’t like the umpire’s call ( he’d signal for a high fastball, duck as it was thrown, and see if the ump was quick enough to dodge it ).
To get to St. Ignatius high school- 13 miles to downtown Cleveland- a "gang of 5” of us from Bay hitchhiked (!!), carpooled with parents, and eventually drove ourselves to and from the 13 miles for those 4 years. Bill and I were homeroom classmates and had nightly phone calls to talk about homework, classmates, teachers, movies, top 40 music, and cars (notice absence of reference to the opposite sex). Just hanging out at one of our 5 homes was our version of Netflix and Chill. Often, if we opted for a weekend movie, Bill’s dad would drive four or five of us to or from or both ways. He had an company radio car and would periodically radio call the office to test the strength and clarity of the voice transmission. At Bill’s homes, I recall 3 different ones in Bay Village, his dad had wired each one with total house stereo. So, we’d sit around his kitchen in each one and play cards and listen to the stereo. We were wild and crazy guys !
When the time came for college, Bill, Tom Comerford and I spent endless hours hitchhiking (again??!!) or driving the 550 miles from Bay to Holy Cross where Bill and I were in several classes together. Bill was a waiter in the Dining Hall and academically really began to stand out his first two years there. But, as you may know, he decided to skip the next two years at Holy Cross and opted for the "AP curriculum at the Jesuit Sem “.
Later, when he decided to return to Bay Village, he visited with my father who, I think, helped him land a position in a Renal Research Lab…and the rest is history.
These great memories now fill my mind, recalling his humor, his wit, his insights, his piercing intelligence, his perseverance ( I remember trying to talk with him on the first day he got his first I-Phone and the calls kept dropping- whew )… but most of all his wholesome companionship over these 65 years.
Dear Diane, Beth, Michael and Ian,
The website looks perfect. I hope that you've found some comfort in the stories people have shared there and on Facebook. Dr. Harmon was the best of the best.
Our patients love him and always trusted him. So many have reached out to us in the last few days to tell us how much they appreciated his wisdom, guidance and humor.
And we loved working with him. He truly made us the Team we are today - I hope that we can continue to make him proud.
I've included a few pictures of a sailing trip he took a few of us on a couple years ago. As happy as nephrology made him, it was always clear that sailing and you, his family, were his greatest loves. Honestly, knowing hims love and dedication to kidneys and patients, that says a lot!
I am saddened by this news. My condolences to the family and friends who will miss him deeply.
I first met Bill at the Switchboard/Paging office at Children’s Hospital. He burst into the office complaining bitterly about being paged in error. We had the first of our long conversations that would more aptly be described as arguments. These enjoyable arguments led to changes in his contact info along with changes to the on call schedules for Nephrology and the Organ Bank.
I sensed early on that Bill enjoyed a good argument and I was happy to be able to get my point of view into the conversation. Bill also stopped me in the hallways or in the cafeteria to chat about anything or nothing. I will truly miss him.
Switchboard/Paging Supervisor, BCH
Dearest Harmon family,
I would like to send you a card. I was a child life specialist that worked with Dr Harmon for 7 years, who felt his strong support and gentle, kind, clear guidance while working with the dialysis and renal transplant teams. I attended the Christmas party in your home and remember this feeling of sweet generosity from your family and how proud Dr. Harmon looked that evening.
I am very saddened to hear of his passing. Now living in Colorado and a clinical social worker ( I think he would have approved), I will not be able to attend the services and will hold you in my heart.
One of my biggest compliments as a child life specialist was from Dr. Harmon. I had witnessed him telling another respected physician that I ..."was very good" at what I did...I felt so proud to be seen by him in this way and felt he trusted me.
Johanna Black, LCSW, MSW, CCLS
Some quotes that Dr. Harmon often said
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Till all the children are well.
Perfect is the enemy of the good.
Never let the devil see you sweat.
Illegitimi non carborundum.
Don't let the bastards grind you down.
Put everything back to where it came from.
Stressed grapes make the best wine.
Stress is good for you.
This is not about you, so don't make it about you.
Results count—only results.
Keep up the good work.
The best revenge is living well.
Never ever eat in front of the television.
Always eat sitting down.
Never eat between meals.
No pee, no K.
Pick up after yourself.
We never worry.
Get it done.
Just do it.
Not by force, but by slowly wearing away.
Hate is a useless emotion.
We all have to work harder, faster, stronger.
Never answer a question with a question.