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Medicine Straight from the Heart

By Meredith Carr
July 2010

Bill and Deb Duncan don’t have the usual father-daughter relationship. An only child, Deb had just turned 18 when her father developed signs of heart trouble. She was called to the hospital to make “her first adult decision” – to send her father into surgery.

“It was our good fortune,” she said, “that the cardiologist in attendance was Dr. Hank Jennings.”

That was 26 years ago. Since that day, Bill has been a patient of Henry S. Jennings III, M.D., and Deb has assumed all responsibility for her father’s care.

The eleventh of 14 children, Bill grew up near Tullahoma, Tenn. A Korean War veteran, he has worked in manufacturing his entire life and can be a pretty tough customer.

Photo by Anne Rayner.

Photo by Anne Rayner.

“My father is stubborn,” laughed Deb. “Dr. Jennings talks to him in a language he can understand. I can ask Dad to do something for months and he won’t listen. But if Dr. Jennings tells him he needs to do it, he’ll do it!”

The Duncans moved with Jennings when he left Saint Thomas Hospital to join the cardiology team at Vanderbilt Heart. This year, they have decided to honor Jennings with a substantial bequest to Vanderbilt Heart for his years of care and friendship.

“Dr. Jennings really found his calling,” said Deb. “His skill and compassion have made this long journey manageable. He’s been there for everything.”

Jennings practices general and interventional cardiology at Vanderbilt. He is an expert in using catheter-based treatments (e.g., balloons and stents) for coronary heart disease. Jennings has always taken a special interest in his patients’ lives.

“I put my home phone number on the back of my card,” he said.
In 1973, Jennings received a Justin Potter Merit Scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He’s been a member of the Canby Robinson Society Patron’s Circle since the 1980s.

The Potter Scholarship meant a lot to me and my family,” Jennings said. “I’ve always wanted to give something back to Vanderbilt. The Duncans’ gift to Vanderbilt Heart gives me an element of fulfillment that goes beyond anything I could do.”

Deb also gives credit to Michael Petracek, M.D., professor of Clinical Cardiac Surgery who has performed coronary artery bypass surgeries on Bill. Petracek and Jennings have known each other for 30 years.

“Without these two phenomenal doctors, I wouldn’t have had so many wonderful years with my father,” Deb said.

Many former and current patients choose to leave money to Vanderbilt in their wills. While there are numerous ways to give, donors may realize significant tax benefits through a bequest.

“We simply wanted others to have access to the medical care and research that we’ve had at Vanderbilt,” Deb said.


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