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Hunter W. McLendon, a third-year medical student at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, returned to his former school, Oak Grove Central Elementary, on Wednesday to warn students about the dangers of smoking.

Robert Long|DTT

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'Anytime we give kids an opportunity to hear from a community leader that we're able to bring into the school, it makes learning real to them.'

Stacey Pirtle, Principal Oak Grove School

Third-year medical student Hunter W. McLendon is just one year away from becoming a medical doctor but the Hernando native returned to his former elementary school, Oak Grove Central Elementary School, in a bid to save lives.

Wearing a white monogrammed lab coat, McLendon, who is a University of Mississippi medical student, broke into a wide smile as he described how he sat in one of the very desks that students occupied on Wednesday.

"I attended school here more than 15 years ago when I was in the fourth grade," said McLendon, as his father, Hernando Alderman Michael McLendon looked on. "It's really great to be back."

"He wanted to be a doctor since he was old enough to talk," said the elder McLendon. "He used to wear a little toy stethoscope around his neck."

The younger McLendon, son of Vickey and Michael McLendon, attended Oak Grove Central from 2001-04.

But rather than nostalgia, McLendon had a serious message for the students at Oak Grove Central.

"My grandfather died from smoking and his brother did also," said Hunter McLendon, warning students to stay away from cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. "Your heart has to work harder. One of the bad things about lung or heart disease, which you can get from smoking, is that your lungs and heart have to work harder. That shows you how long-term tobacco use can do harm to your body."

As part of a demonstration, McLendon had children run in place, while breathing only through a straw, to illustrate the difficulty that long-time smokers have with breathing regularly.

Stacey Pirtle, Oak Grove Central Elementary Principal, said she hopes that students came away with a better understanding of the dangers of smoking.

Pirtle said the fact that McLendon is a former student, and is still a young man, carries great weight with the younger set.

"I think if they have first-hand experience with someone who attended our school and is now going on to become a doctor, they will listen to what he has to say," Pirtle said. "Anytime we give kids an opportunity to hear from a community leader that we're able to bring into the school, it makes learning real to them."

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.

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