June 9, 2009 | Bringing “the vision of a primary care physician to the latest science in genetics,” Kent McKelvey, M.D., on May 14 became the inaugural recipient of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Chair in Clinical Genetics.
The chair investiture ceremony mixed praise for McKelvey’s dedication to his patients with praise for Rockefeller, the late Arkansas lieutenant governor, “who always tried to help others.” The endowed chair and genetics clinic was established with a donation from Lisenne Rockefeller, Rockefeller’s widow.
A founding member of the new UAMS Division of Genetics, McKelvey is director of Cancer Genetics Services at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. He joined the UAMS faculty in 2003.
“He brings the point of view of a primary care physician to the knowledge of how genetic disorders can impact his patients, allowing him to provide counsel for genetic testing and treatment,” said colleague Arlo Kahn, M.D., a professor of family medicine and the Harold Silberbush, M.D., Endowed Chair in Family and Community Medicines.
Suzanne Hicks, president of the Arkansas Down Syndrome Association and mother of a grown child with the genetic disorder, said the “biggest hole in health care in this country” is for those who are mentally disabled. She said it is especially true for adults with Down syndrome.
McKelvey “is interested in making life better through treatment today that will improve their quality of life tomorrow,” Hicks said.
McKelvey’s sister, Samantha McKelvey, M.D., called her brother a “human disease calculator” who can quickly process groups of symptoms and reach the correct diagnosis.
More than that, Samantha McKelvey described his passion for teaching and devotion to his patients. She recounted him staying near her bedside when she nearly succumbed to acute myeloid leukemia. He then found a way to deal with his concern, she said, by turning it into a teaching moment and sharing with medical students at her bedside about how to handle the illness of a family member.
McKelvey said she spoke to the lieutenant governor by phone a few times following his diagnosis of a rare bone marrow disease that could transform into acute leukemia. Rockefeller died from the disease in 2006.
Will Rockefeller, Rockefeller’s son, called the endowed chair and clinic not a memorial to his death but instead a celebration of his life.
“Dad was not one to stay seated for a long period of time because he knew there was always so much to do,” Rockefeller said, adding that both his parents had showed him by example “how thoughtful action can lead to change.”
UAMS Medical Services