A couple months ago when I complained about a pinched nerve to a friend who is a retired doctor, he urged me to see Kenny Edwards. “He’s from Crawford,” my friend added as an afterthought.
While I was intensely interested in finding relief, the doctor’s origins piqued my curiosity.
Crawford is a rural farming community with a downtown that has been crumbling for decades.
How does a kid growing up in an environment in which cultural and educational opportunities were limited attain expertise in a highly specialized field?
Well, there are the examples of bluesman Big Joe Williams and NFL All-Pro receiver Jerry Rice.
Incidentally, Rice and Edwards’ older brother Ed were boyhood friends, and often little brother would go with them fishing.
Kenny Edwards, 53, is the ninth of 11 children of a small dairy farmer, who dropped out of high school in the 11th grade to fight in World War II.
Growing up Edwards and his siblings had cows to milk, about 80 of them, if you don’t count grandma’s 20 or so.
Like putting his shoes on in the morning or eating breakfast, milking 100 or so cows was part of his daily regimen.
“I loved it.” Edwards said. “I enjoyed taking care of animals.
“One of my favorite things was feeding baby calves by bottle.”
Ada and Willie Edwards Jr. were attentive parents. “Sheltered” is the word Edwards uses to describe his childhood.
The Edwards family were avid church goers, and it was at Piney Grove Church near Bluff Lake where he would meet Pinkie Lashell, the girl who would become his high school sweetheart, future wife and mother of their three children.
One clue that Edwards might end up in medicine came early. An older brother studying physical therapy at Ole Miss would bring cat cadavers home on the weekends and dissect them on the front porch.
Whenever he did, young Kenny was there watching over his shoulder.
Kenny wasn’t the only Edwards child who saw medicine as a way to get off the farm.
Two brothers, Karl and Edwin, are physical therapists, another brother, Derrick, is a cardiologist in Jackson and a sister, Felicia Simpson, is a nurse in Memphis.
By the time high school graduation rolled around, there were no funds for college, so Edwards enlisted in the Navy. While doing stints in Jacksonville, Florida and Guantanamo he gained medical experience as a hospital corpsman.
Out of the Navy, Edwards married Pinkie and moved to Jackson where he worked as a respiratory therapist at University of Mississippi Medical Center and began taking prerequisites for med school.
While at UMMC Edwards forged a friendship with Scott Jones, who was a senior resident in orthopedics. They both enjoyed deer hunting.
The two would become colleagues when Edwards joined the staff at Columbus Orthopaedic in 2012.
After graduating from Mississippi State in 2002, Edwards began what would be 10 years of medical training that culminated in a year-long fellowship at the Texas Back Institute in Plano.
When asked if he ever runs into any surprises in the operating room, Edwards said no, citing the 1,411 cases he worked while at TBI under the tutelage of 15 world-class orthopedists.
“I had a lot of exposure to a lot of techniques (while at TBI),” Edwards said, adding that his training and the experience of “having been there before” have been invaluable.
On the day we talked, Edwards had done three of what he termed “big cases.”
By big cases, he meant complex and long. For Edwards, “long” can mean five to six hours.
Some days, when the cases are not as complex, he treats as many as 10 patients.
Edwards, who is 6’3” and appears to have retained the fitness he enjoyed as a stand-out high school basketball player, says he goes into a different state when he enters the operating room.
“You have to walk into every one as if nothing else matters,” Edwards said. “I go into a zone when I’m focusing on the patient,” he said.
“I hear every conversation in the room.”
Edwards listens to music while doing his work. His personal Muzak can be rap, blues, R&B, country, even Elvis.
Even so, he monitors the conversations going on around him. Generally, there are four or five technicians assisting him.
“If I hear blood pressure is dropping, we have to respond,” he said.
I’m anticipating what I’m going to have to do three steps from now
When asked what makes a good surgeon, Edwards was quick with an answer.
You’re calm, you’re prepared, he said. “When you go into a case, you know what the outcome will be before you start.”
At the end of our interview, I asked if anyone in the family still had dairy cows.
Edwards laughed, pausing for a moment to consider those simpler times.
Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.