At times working three jobs to earn money but not enough to afford an apartment, he slept in his car for six months while attending Augusta State University.
Passed over for medical school three times, he worked as a research assistant and wrote research papers until he was accepted at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.
Told his daughter wouldn’t survive dangerous brain swelling, he saw her through a long illness and now vows to give his patients more.
Now, despite his own misgivings that others are better, he is the Resident of the Year for GRU and will soon head to a fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic.
“The more people told me no,” he said, “the more I wanted it.”
Growing up in Washington, Ga., Hardy conceded, he concentrated more on baseball and football until he started doing well in health occupations class in his senior year.
“I thought, man, I could do this,” he said. A brother and a sister were in nursing school, and that was what he set his sights on, although he wanted to be a physician.
“I think that people didn’t believe I could be, so I didn’t believe I could be,” he said.
Although his parents provided for him, they couldn’t send him to college. A HOPE Scholarship paid for school but not a place to live as he attended ASU.
“I told my parents I had enough money to live in an apartment but I really didn’t,” he said. “So I just lived in my car for about six months.”
The way he tells it, it wasn’t a big deal. As a teaching assistant for biology, for instance, he had access to that building at night.
“Sometimes I would sleep on the lab benches or just sleep in the room just kind of propped up in a chair,” Hardy said.
He was on the rowing team, and other members would let him crash at their place. He could shower at the gym, and others looked out for him if he was bunking in the car on campus.
“The security guards knew me and they would let me in the buildings at night when it was cold,” Hardy said. “But that was only for about six months and I had three jobs and I saved up enough money to find an apartment … .”
He had been told not to take anatomy and physiology because they would be too hard but he did extremely well, helping rekindle his desire to be a physician.
“I fell in love with it,” he said. “And I thought ‘OK, I can do this.’ And that is where my drive came from, I believe.”
After graduating from ASU in 2001, he was turned down for medical school three years in a row.
“That was a really big struggle … because I had worked really hard and … I didn’t know if I wanted to do anything else,” Hardy said.
He got a job as a research assistant for Dr. Wendy Bollag, which helped get more research publications under his belt, and on his fourth try he was accepted at MCG.
He graduated from MCG and got a general surgery residency. Then, his daughter, Avery, came down with a rare chronic inflammation of the brain called Rasmussen’s encephalitis, which can cause seizures and dangerous brain swelling.
“When she went into the hospital, her brain was swollen so much they told us to say goodbye to her,” Hardy said. “The next morning, they said, she won’t be here. It was her first birthday. We sang Happy Birthday to her. We told her goodbye.”
The next morning the swelling was down, but surgery would be needed. His first month or two as a resident, Hardy spent long hours working and then joined his family in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.
Now, “I try to give a little extra to the family and to the patient, knowing how it feels to be in the hospital with a loved one,” Hardy said.
He spent an extra year in research to try to increase his chances at a top fellowship, and he got one in vascular surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.
“I was very surprised that they would have me, but I am very honored,” Hardy said. As with the Resident of the Year award, he is not sure he is deserving, but that might also be part of his drive.
“I’m always wanting to get better,” Hardy said.