Longtime Physician Revered by Teen Patients and Colleagues Alike
Herndon Murray, M.D., makes a mark on Shepherd Center as a physician, injury prevention advocate and medical pioneer.
On the first floor of the Marcus-Woodruff Building at Shepherd Center, just down from the security desk, a series of bronze busts lines a wall. Each bust recognizes a distinguished person in the history of Shepherd Center. But one is quite different from the others.
It’s hand-sculpted from papier mâché, plaster and duct tape, and spray-painted metallic brown to match the other busts. And it’s a pretty good likeness of longtime Shepherd Center physician Herndon Murray, M.D., from his wire-rim glasses to his trademark bowtie.
The bust was a personal tribute crafted by Josh “Tater” Inglett, one of Dr. Murray’s patients from Shepherd’s adolescent spinal cord injury rehabilitation program. When Josh learned that the medical director of orthopedics and head of the spinal cord injury (SCI) adolescent program didn’t have a bust, he took it upon himself to make one.
“That’s illustrative of the adolescent program,” Dr. Murray says. “You never know what to expect.”
The artistic tribute exemplifies the bond Dr. Murray has with the teen-agers who come and go in the program he helped build – a program that has grown from a few patients to two full teams of five teens occupying their own floor. While Dr. Murray handed the reins of the program to Anna Choo Elmers, M.D., in 2015, he still makes orthopedic consultations at Shepherd Center.
Stories of the pranks played on him during his tenure still make the rounds. Just before operating on a young man, he was surprised to find a message written on the patient’s back in black marker instructing him to “do a good job.” Another time, he walked into the teen therapy area to find a patient drinking from a handheld urinal with a straw. The young man, knowing that Dr. Murray was on his way to the area, had put apple juice into the urinal.
“Working with kids is magnificent,” Dr. Murray says. “They go through something horrible when they get hurt and initially are in a state of shock. But before you know it, they start acting like teen-agers again.”
Dr. Murray has been with Shepherd Center since it opened in 1975. He was an associate (and friend) of David Apple, M.D., the first medical director of Shepherd Center, in an orthopedic practice. After Dr. Apple left the practice to lead Shepherd Center’s medical program, he invited Dr. Murray to run orthopedics at the hospital.
“Dr. Murray had just returned from completing a spinal surgery fellowship at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center at the University of Southern California, and I figured we would be a good team,” Dr. Apple recalls. “Because he could perform surgery on SCI patients, we could get them mobilized earlier, which was key to getting good results, as well as preventing further complications. He was an important addition to our staff.”
Colleagues say Dr. Murray has a reserved quality that can sometimes be a little intimidating.
“You had to really know your stuff if you were on his team,” recalls Cheryl Linden, LPC, OT/L, an occupational therapist and the counselor on the adolescent team. She has worked with Dr. Murray for 28 years. “He expected nothing but the best from you, but he also had the utmost respect for his team.”
One thing people may not know about Dr. Murray is that he can name the mascot of every high school in Georgia, which helped him connect with his young patients right away, Cheryl notes. “And nothing made him happier than when former patients returned to Shepherd Center to see him and were leading happy, successful lives,” she adds.
Beyond treating injuries, Dr. Murray has worked to prevent them from happening in the first place, most notably spearheading a campaign to caution teens about diving. “A few years ago, we had a 14-year-old girl who was injured after diving,” he recalls. “She was crying, saying, ‘If I just hadn’t taken that dive, it would be OK.’ Most people don’t realize that a single dive can change a life. I knew we had to do something.”
The campaign consisted of posters, ads and messages on social media, as well as testimonials from teen-agers who had been injured in diving accidents. The effort has paid off. In 2011, Shepherd Center treated 28 patients injured in diving accidents; three years later, that number was down to 10, and in 2015, there were no Georgia patients injured in diving accidents.
“Any time you can keep one kid from being paralyzed, it’s worth it,” Dr. Murray says. “Diving injuries are preventable.”
Looking back on his long career, he says: “I’m most proud of the success of the adolescent program and the relationships that have grown out of it. I think the adolescent team is one of the things that sets Shepherd Center apart from other rehabilitation programs.”
Dr. Apple adds: “Dr. Murray contributed so much to this hospital early on and has continued to do so. It was a comfort to know he was up there to handle the spinal surgeries, and he was always looking for ways to be better and improve upon what he was doing. It’s been a pleasure to work with him.”
Written by Sara Baxter
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.