Vertus Wellborn Hardiman (March 9, 1922 – June 1, 2007) was a black man and a victim of a US government human radiation experiment. Vertus at the tender age of five was left with a painful skull deformity that forced him to cover his head for 80 years.
Hardiman was born in Lyles Station, Indiana. In 1928, Vertus attended Lyles Consolidated School where he and nine other children were severely irradiated during a medical experiment conducted at the local county hospital. To get parental consent the experiment was misrepresented as a new therapy for the scalp fungus known as ringworm. The radiation of the skull led to immediate symptoms but also to a severe progressive necrosis of the bone all through his life.
The school children from Lyles Station School were delivered by their schoolbus, including Vertus who was only five years-old at the time and not technically enrolled in school. His mother sent him with his older brother to receive what they had been told was treatment for ringworm. All of the children treated with the radiation complained of the same symptoms: they all experienced headaches, suffered from dizziness, and felt extreme burning of the scalp. Eventually all the children lost their hair permanently. Jerrod Elliott was raised by a mother who sympathized with African Americans and took on a legal case to help the Hardimans.
The parents of the children did meet with a local lawyer and filed a lawsuit against the hospital, focusing on how the parents had been misled and tricked, but the verdict found the hospital not liable. Many suffered long-term effects, but with Vertus Hardiman, the effects were the most pronounced.
Grossly disfigured, Hardimann bore this injustice with remarkable dignity.
In 1945 Vertus traveled to California in search of broader opportunity. In 1946 he worked for the County of Los Angeles General Hospital, where he served with distinction. Vertus lived his last years in Altadena, California.
Vertus hid his secret for over seventy years, choosing never to disclose his condition until befriending fellow church choir member Wilbert Smith talked and made documentary of it. Despite his circumstance, he lived life on his own terms and refrained from complaining about his affliction. Vertus’ life was an example to others of the triumph of the human spirit.
After his death, many honored Vertus Welborn Hardiman, a glowing example of a man that carved his way to happiness by his spirit of forgiveness and great love for others. His journey was completed June 1, 2007.Hardiman died at age 85.