Dr. Jones didn’t take a direct path into medicine. “Ever since I was seven years old, my goal was to be a professional baseball player. I played all the way through college, then realized baseball probably wasn’t going to be my career,” says Dr. Jones. He decided to go to dental school and was accepted at the University of California. “About 10 days after I got there, I realized I made a big mistake. Yet I sort of resigned myself to being an oral surgeon.”
Dr. Jones did, however, apply to medical school, but he didn’t hear back when all his friends were getting accepted into programs. “Out of the blue, on March 12 of the following year, I got a letter in the mail from the University of Utah Medical School that I had been accepted. I quit dental school that day.” In comparative anatomy, Dr. Jones became fascinated with the heart—how it worked and what it did. “I knew as a freshman that I wanted to be a heart surgeon,” says Dr. Jones. “That’s how it all began. I came back here in 1977, so this is my fortieth year of doing what I love doing. I’ll never look back.”
In 1985, Dr. Jones performed the first heart transplant at LDS Hospital—the second ever in the Intermountain west. “The patient was a fellow named Sam Hart,” says Dr. Jones. “Sam lived for almost 30 more years. He just died last year.” Dr. Pendo shared a personal story about her father’s bypass surgery, and how the extra 30 years he had with his family was such a gift. “I think that the patients and their families are my major motivator to get up in the morning,” says Dr. Jones. “I enjoy going to work, but I think the majority of people don’t have that privilege.”
When asked what perspective a 40-year career provides when looking to the future of medicine, Dr. Jones replies, “With all the scrutiny placed on physicians and hospitals, we almost, at times, forget about the patients. In the past, it was a lot easier to do what we loved doing—and what we were really good at doing—than it is now. I hope we can put distractions where they need to be to in order to take care of the business at hand—and that is getting the patient well.”
Dr. Jones has placed more than 1,700 mechanical valves, 1,000 bio-prosthetic valves, and has been the principal or co-principal investigator on numerous clinical trials, the most recent involving transcatheter aortic valve replacements. He is the author or co-author of more than 50 publications in peer-review journals as well as in cardiac surgery textbooks.
Despite his achievements, Dr. Jones remains humble. “It’s interesting, and I’ve told my kids this, too. It doesn’t matter if you go down a road and you feel it’s the wrong road, back up and find the right road. If you stay down the wrong road for the rest of your life, then your job will not be a pleasant one.” Good advice from a Healthcare Hero.