James E. Hunt, MD
DeAnn, their son Al and Dr. Hunt (Photo: C. Waynette Traub)
Anesthesiologist, ACH Division of Pediatric Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, ACH Burn Center; Assistant Professor, UAMS Department of Anesthesiology.
When James Hunt was growing up, he never thought about a medical career, much less specializing in anesthesiology for burn patients.
"No one in my family was medical," said Hunt. "No one in my family ever had a college degree. My family was, is, poor—not dirt poor, but trailer-livin' blue-collar poor—the kind of poor that takes pride in hunting and fishing skills, and sometimes measures wealth by the number and bloodlines of the dogs under the porch."
Hunt is the oldest of four boys—one birth brother and two stepbrothers—separated in age by a total of four years and together as a family since preschool. "My stepmother liked to brag to strangers that 'her boys were the best behaved in the churchyard,' but every other mother in the area knew different," he said. "The truth was that we were as loud and scrappy as beagle puppies—all clumsy, dirty, and hungry."
Hunt started working as a phlebotomist at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock while still in high school, "not because I was interested in a medical profession," he explained, "but because I was interested in having a car, cash, and girlfriends."
After taking some college, Hunt enrolled in the Baptist Health School of Nursing, "again, not because of interest in medicine, but because of interest in better cars and more expensive girlfriends," he explained. "About that same time, divine Providence introduced me to two women: one, Dianna Wilson, who encouraged and shepherded me through RN school; the other, DeAnn Marchi, who encouraged and shepherded me into marriage."
While studying nursing, Hunt first glimpsed the possibilities of a profession in healthcare.
"It was also in nursing school that I discovered my own curiosity about human physiology and pathophysiology," he said. "It would be several years later, after working as an RN, and after finishing my BSN, that my wife and I would make the decision to enter medical school. My experience as a critical care RN (at Baptist Medical Center in Little Rock) had already exposed me to the attractions of anesthesiology. Divine Providence again seems to have played a role in my choice of specialty."
Even though Hunt's career path had been determined, the road to practicing medicine remained long. While working full-time, he completed core requisites for the UAMS College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock throughout the mid-1990s. He graduated from medical school in 2003, and completed his residency at the UAMS College of Medicine in 2007.
"During my senior year of medical school, my wife and I were gifted with our first and only child. His name is Al; he has Down syndrome," said Hunt. "His presence has taught us gratitude and responsibility. His arrival introduced us to whole communities of special needs advocates, educators, families, philanthropists, and volunteers. His life leads us to community involvement and service. DeAnn and I both volunteer service to Easter Seals Arkansas. I currently serve on Easter Seals Arkansas' Board of Directors, as well as serving on the Arkansas Governor's Commission for People with Disabilities. Additionally, as an Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), I've been allowed the unique opportunity to participate in building a medical home for genetics patients in Arkansas. Currently, I coordinate and provide anesthesia services to those UAMS Genetics Clinic patients unable to tolerate diagnostic exams without sedation, as well as those needing surgical interventions."
Hunt thoroughly enjoys both jobs—working in the Burn Center and with the Genetics Clinic.
"I can't imagine doing something else, which is an odd sensation for me, as I never intended to pursue medicine," he said. "As a young man, I thought I wanted to be an English or history professor in some small liberal arts college somewhere. I also toyed with the possibility of studying law. My father's father told me I'd be lucky to get out of high school. I'm grateful for the Hand of Providence."
Hunt has specific public health goals he'd like to see accomplished in Arkansas during his lifetime. At the top of the list is an expanded Burn Center, with more dedicated space to accommodate adults and children in Arkansas who need those services—including reconstructive plastics. "We need money and staff to conduct more burn-related bench and clinical research," he said.
He'd like to see a medical genetics home established for Arkansans with special needs, a place in which those patients can find primary and specialty services—whether medical, surgical, or therapeutic—and follow-up care across their lifespan. "Part of that model should include anesthesia services, perhaps even an anesthesia subspecialty service," he said.
Hunt would also like to see more comprehensive transition and adult services for Arkansans with special needs. "We need ongoing adult education, socialization, and therapy services so that our loved ones can function in the community at their highest possible level of independence," he explained. "Secondary and vocational education opportunities should be available to every person with special needs, regardless of age."
Hunt admits he has little spare time. "My son has recently taken up playing Miracle League baseball, and he's hounding me lately about going fishing; my spare time is often his time," he said. "My father-in-law and I do like to canoe and hike the rivers and mountains of north Arkansas. Sometimes we head out to the Rockies or the Trinity Alps; we even went to Peru and the Galapagos last year. Of course, finding time for date nights with my wife is always desirable. I'm carrying around my golf clubs in the Jeep, but that's about as close as I seem to get to the golf course."
Hunt's dad, a brother and his family, and "Granny Darla" live nearby; his in-laws reside in northwest Arkansas. Hunt remains the only family member with a college degree.
With his life virtually an open book, if folks are surprised to learn anything about Hunt, it's usually "that my (deep baritone) voice doesn't quite match my appearance; that's about all I have to say about that," he joked.