SAN ANTONIO – A local registered nurse has transformed her passion of helping others in the emergency room to helping people through her non-profit tattoo removal program.
Loretta Kent, 72, said she became a nurse in 1993 and graduated from nursing school at age 45.
“I worked at a local hospital for almost 27 years as an ER nurse and that is where I met a plastic surgeon who was attempting to find a way to remove tattoos,” Kent said. “Back then, that process was extremely expensive. You had to have all this equipment and armor gear and a lot of details to make that process happen so only physicians with a large practice could manage it.”
She said that surgeon she worked with developed a method of removing tattoos.
“The side effect was that it caused a burn, but it healed without a scar but I could scar,” Kent said. But you have to remember, a tattoo is already a scar. You already have a scar, it is just black or green or blue and if that tattoo is keeping you from getting in the military or getting in the job you want, then it is just a scar on your life, but you can replace it.”
Kent said she worked with the program for quite a while, but overtime, it stopped.
“There was still a population out there that needed this,” Kent said. “People of all ages and classes come through and you find out about their stories. You just know you have to help them find a way to go on with their life.”
Kent was able to start her own non-profit called Southwest Tattoo Removal Program, earning her first dollar November 2017. Since then, she has helped former gang members, convicts, or just people with unwanted markings on their face, neck, hands or any part of their body.
“Prison and previous life doesn’t have to introduce you to other people first before you get a chance to be who you are,” Kent said. “I’ve also helped abused women who have been stamped or marked during the history of their bad relationships. It is not a good memory. You can put cover up over the tattoo but that is still there and every time you see it it brings up those memories and you shouldn’t have to look at that every time you take a shower. That is why we are here to help. We get them off and we make it better.”
At first, the program is completely free for those who are unemployed.
“It starts out free for people who are not employed, on probation or parole,” Kent said. “Then, I expect them to start looking for a job and, when they can, start bring me $35 per treatment. It is other people who don’t fit that scenario that pay for the full service that helps me provide the service for the people I can help and who can’t afford it. I decide case by case. I have to hear their story. I can usually tell what their situation is based on the tattoos they want to remove and we just start a conversation from there. You ask, ‘Well why charge $35?’ People don’t think as much of things that are given to them for free. If they are able to start paying a few dollars here and there when they can afford to do so, then it will mean more for them. Plus it also cost a lot of money to do this,” she laughed.
Kent said depending on the tattoo, it varies as far as how many treatments it takes to have a tattoo completely removed. The pain tolerance also varies from person to person.
“It can take anywhere from five or six treatments, to 20,” Kent said. “What is a usual tattoo you know? Every tattoo is customized. Every removal is customized because it is black or loaded black or light black or it’s made up of different colors and in different places on the body. They have different meanings. Different things take different methods.”
Kent said it is not magic.
“It is a fading process,” Kent said. “The body does all of the work. The light just works on the ink by breaking up the particles into smaller bits inside the skin and the body comes in underneath and pulls the debris away.”
She said the process tends to be very therapeutic for both her and her clients.
“I have a variety of emotions that happen right there in that chair,” Kent said. “They cry and tell me their stories and I hug them and help them anyway I can. I’d like to say I give a good counseling session while they are here,” Kent laughed.
Kent said the first treatment is always the most trying treatment.
“Then after that it becomes more normal and they are not so scared,” Kent said. “They are not so afraid and then they begin to open up and tell me what’s going on in their lives and about their kids and about their grandmas and where they are from. It’s nice.”
Kent said the biggest reward she gets is knowing she has help start the change in someone’s life.
“One of the first clients I had when I first opened was a young man who had a rough past,” Kent said. “He had ink on his face and hands but he was working hard to get that stigma removed. He was in college and moving forward but for the jobs he wanted, the ink was holding him back. He came to me and we got that ink right off and he is doing so well now. He is working of ra non-profit and finishing his college education. It is very rewarding to help people enter the workforce or go into law enforcement or the military.”
She said once the unwanted tattoos are removed, her clients are beyond grateful.
“There is a radiance that occurs about them,” Kent said. “They feel like they are in control of their identity and are no longer being defined by what they had.”
Growing up in an independent lifestyle, as a mother of two, and as a former pastor’s wife, Kent said she has always had an idea of how to run a business. She too has faced her own set of obstacles such as with finances, or taking care of her husband is also a veteran and disabled. Her goal, no matter her age or issues, has always been to serve others.
“You don’t become a nurse because you don’t want to help others,” she laughed. “That is what a nurse does. A nurse is a helper and a facilitator and that is always the way I have seen myself.”
She said she has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
“Well if you sit down and die, your life is over,” Kent said. “You have stay busy and active and stay interested.”
If you are interested in reaching out to Kent for her services, you can find Southwest Tattoo Removal Program online and on social media where you can call or contact her directly through messenger.
“My phone is ringing 24 hours a day,” Kent laughed. “I encourage them to make an appointment and it goes from there. When they get here I explain the process to them again.”
Kent also helps people with facials and skin care for those battling acne or aging.
“If you have a tattoo that you love and is not causing you any problems, I think you should keep them. I am not saying anything is wrong with those,” Kent reiterated. “But if you have one that is unwanted, know that it will hold you back in life. If it is keeping you from getting a job or causing you a problem in your personal life, covering it up won’t do the trick. Sometimes, it is women who have been abused and stamped to be made as property. That mental break from that situation needs to be made.”
Kent said she encourages others to see her story, and to find ways to help others.
“The underlying mission is, do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Kent said. “Do what you can for others. It is a worthy life. It is a good life.”
If you know someone like Kent who is making a difference in the South Texas community or who has a unique story, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.