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John C. Jones

One of many, he says

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Dr. John C. Jones is not comfortable being singled out as a "best" surgeon. His father - Dr. Robert Jones - detested advertising, and Jones says an article about him smacks of self-promotion. But even Jones notes that the talents of Dr. Robert Jones and his partner, Dr. Henry Hollenberg, are legendary in Little Rock medicine, so perhaps he'll excuse this generation's decision to honor him. Jones, 60, got his medical degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, did an internship in surgery at Johns Hopkins, a residency at UCLA and a two-year stint in the Army in Alaska before he joined his father's Little Rock practice in 1979. (His grandfather was a doctor too, in Hampton, Ark. Jones still has his medical saddle bags.) Jones does abdominal and breast surgery, treating cancer and removing gall bladders gone bad, among other things. He's seen great improvements in surgery in his 25 years of practice - from laparoscopy, which allows him to operate via camera through tiny incisions, to new operative treatments for liver cancer. For the latter, surgeons can now insert probes directly into the cancer, freezing or, by radiographic probe, burning malignant cells away. The techniques have increased survival time for people with recurrent liver cancer, patients who previously were treated by having parts of the liver cut away. The technological advances have not come without disadvantages. The new liver technique, Jones said, "is a good example of how much surgical costs have gone up," because of the development of the radiographic technology. Technology extends life "but it also costs billions of dollars. It's a problem in medicine, a problem I don't think we've come to grips with." He doesn't know the answer to the increasing cost of health care and the growing numbers of uninsured. But he does know that a cost-benefit ratio works like this: The gain to society, extra years for a small number of people, may not seem worth billions. But if it's your loved one who's getting an extra year or two, the money was well spent. As he gets older, "the harder it is for me to stomach complications," Jones said. "I just hate it … especially if I feel like what I did caused it." He wants 100 percent good outcomes. This is perhaps why he especially enjoys gall bladder surgery. "I know how awful it was" in years past, he said, when it required a long incision, going under the rib cage, great pain and a week's recovery in the hospital. "Now it's four punctures and you go home in a day. Patients feel good. You feel like you've helped without hurting." Though he is much heralded in the community, Jones insisted there's no thing as a "best" doctor. He insisted that many others are more deserving than he is of such a title. His choices: Dale Morris. "He has been known to pay for transport for his patients to go to the Mayo Clinic [in Minnesota]. He's well-deserving." Cliff Parnell, Jones' partner. "He'll say a prayer for his patients if they ask him to." Everett Tucker, another partner. "He spends I don't know how many hours teaching residents [on rotation from UAMS] for nothing." While all in the practice participate, Tucker "deserves a lot of credit." Kent Westbrook, at UAMS. "He's been the one we've all called for complicated cases. He's a wonderful role model." And Nick Lang, at the Veterans hospital, and Turner Harris, who's retired and running a free medical clinic under the auspices of St. Vincent Hospital Medical Center, and Hugh Burnett, "who's seen more esophageal cancer surgery cases than anybody else." Surgeons add to their credits with their years of experience. But does aging require surgeons to retire sooner than other doctors? "I have too many kids," Jones said. [There are four.] "I'm going to be working until the controls committee tells me not to."

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