Staff reports

TIFTON -- Tifton is known for being many things -- the Reading Capital of the World, the Turf Grass Capital of the World, and even the Friendly City. But there is something equally notable that hasn't garnered an I-75 billboard. Tifton is home to Dr. Kenneth Kent.

In 1979, Dr. Kent was one of the first people in the United States to perform an angioplasty, the procedure that uses a catheter and balloon device to treat blockages and blood clots in patients' arteries. He will be in Tifton Monday to speak to physicians and to help celebrate the opening of Tift Regional Medical Center's Heart Center.

"It's great to be returning home and an honor to speak at the dedication of the new Heart Center," he said. "I am delighted to see that Tifton will develop a heart center. Providing high quality cardiac care quickly in case of emergencies has proved to provide patients with the best outcomes."

After graduating from Tifton High School in 1956, Dr. Kent went on to major in chemistry at Emory University and then received his master's in physiology. He graduated from medical school at Emory in 1965 before he received his Ph.D. in 1970. He then went on to a distinguished career in cardiology and research.

"It has been wonderful to be involved with Percutaneous Coronary Interventions, angioplasty since the early days," Dr. Kent said. "I performed the first procedure in the middle Atlantic area in February 1979. I had the opportunity to study with the founder of the procedure, Andreas Gruentzig in Zurich. He was a creative and courageous man who has changed the lives of millions of our patients."

"He's (Kent) just one of the best, one of the lead cardiologists -- from a practice point of view and for research," said Ross Pittman, a high school classmate of Kent's and member of the TRMC Hospital Authority.

"We all know that in high school you meet people that you know will be the successful folks," Pittman said. "I knew early on Kenny Kent had a lot to offer and was going somewhere in this world. He is one of those world-class guys. And he saved me in my biology class."

Pittman isn't the only Dr. Kent fan. Tifton's Bootsie Cottongim is Dr. Kent's sister.

"He's a true doctor," she said. "We need more just like him. He's soft-spoken and has a wonderful bedside manner."

Cottongim said her brother was always good at science in school. She said that, coupled with their mother being a nurse, helped lead him to a career in medicine. Dr. Kent agreed.

"My decision to go into medicine was greatly influenced by my mother and the physicians who took care of me and my family, Drs. W.F. and Charles Zimmerman," he said. "The dedication of those men to their patients and to medicine was an inspiration."

From medical school days until now, Dr. Kent has been astounded at the progress of cardiology.

"It has been amazing to follow the many advances in the field which have resulted in more successful and durable outcomes in our patients undergoing angioplasty. With a wide variety of very effective new pharmaceutical agents and devices, we have made major advances to protect our patients from the complications of heart disease," he said.

"However, more needs to be done. Americans still need to change their lifestyles to become more active, eat healthier foods and respond to symptoms of heart disease and stroke in a more timely manner."

Dr. Kent currently serves as director at Washington Cardiology Center, director of cardiac services at Georgetown University Hospital and clinical professor at Georgetown University Medical Center. He will be speaking to local physicians as well as those flying in from Shands Medical Center and Emory University about "Progress in the treatment of cardiovascular disease."

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