February 1, 2022 – Kent McKelvey, M.D., 52, of Little Rock died Monday, Jan. 17. He was an Associate Professor in the Division of Genetics and served as Director of Cancer Genetics Services in the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. He was also a long-time medical director for the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine’s Community Health and Education division.
Dr. McKelvey had been battling acute myeloid leukemia for the past five years. His devotion to his patients, his mission in his field and his love of life sustained him through three stem cell transplants, the most recent in July 2021.
A faculty member since 2003, Dr. McKelvey was a founding member of the Division of Genetics and served as Director of Cancer Genetics Services in the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. He was a champion for Arkansans with Down syndrome and other genetic conditions and was instrumental in establishing the Adult Genetics Clinic at UAMS. He was invested as the inaugural recipient of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Chair in Clinical Genetics in 2009.
Dr. McKelvey was a nationally recognized leader on the ethical use of predictive genetic testing in clinical medicine and was on the forefront of teaching the responsible use of molecular genetics in preventive medicine. Between his own stem-cell transplants, he tenaciously continued his career seeing patients and families via telemedicine and working closely with the Arkansas Down Syndrome Association on their behalf. After many years of research, despite his ongoing battle with AML, he published definitive guidelines for treatment of adults with Down syndrome in JAMA in October 2020, and continued his collaboration with fellow members on the American College of Medical Genetics Secondary Findings Committee, which resulted in authorship of his final publication on genome sequencing in Nature Genetics in Medicine in May 2021.
Dr. McKelvey is one of six doctors from three generations of his family to practice in the state of Arkansas. He received his medical degree from UAMS in 1996 and completed his residency at the UAMS Family Medicine program in Texarkana. After working in emergency departments in DeQueen and Nashville, Arkansas, and two years in private practice in Mountain Home, he completed a fellowship in medical genetics at his college alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2003, he returned to Arkansas to raise a family and rejoined UAMS as Director of the Family Medicine Pre-doctoral Program in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine. Dr. McKelvey served in the Division of Genetics following its establishment in 2008, and continued to hold an additional appointment in Family Medicine. He directed the Medical Genetics Course in the College of Medicine, and was elected by his students for numerous teaching awards.
Dr. McKelvey brought his gift of strength and determination to the diverse roles he served at UAMS throughout his life. He was an intense person with a good sense of humor and a force of vitality wherever he went. Although his career goal was to give back to those around him, he spent much of his final years at UAMS as a patient rather than a physician, and he found himself overwhelmed with gratitude for the physicians, colleagues, nurses and staff who would treat him like family at the only hospital that would ever feel like home. He considered these final years to be the happiest of his life. Dr. McKelvey’s family would like to extend their thanks to all those who cared for him.
Service arrangements are on hold due to the recent pandemic surge, but a celebration of life is being tentatively planned both in Memphis and in Little Rock, and dates will be forthcoming.
He is survived by his wife, Elise; his children, Caroline and Kent David McKelvey III; his stepdaughters, Anna Douglas Piper and Mary Catherine Piper; his sister and fellow UAMS faculty member Dr. Samantha McKelvey; his sister and Neonatal Intensive Care CNP, APRN at ACH, Betsy McKelvey Peeler, and their entire family in your thoughts during this difficult time. He is also survived by his mother and stepfather, Don Varner and Josephine Charlotte Egner Varner, and half-brothers Michael Varner and Matthew McKelvey. He was pre-deceased by father Dr. K. David McKelvey Sr.