March 17, 2013

Dalton’s first cardiologist takes heart honors

Rachel Brown
rachelbrown@daltoncitizen.com

— Retiring cardiologist Dr. John Poehlman already had a job lined up in Knoxville back in the 1970s when his career was still in the early stages.

Then an administrator for Hamilton Medical Center persuaded him to rethink his plans.

“He told me that I would never regret coming, and he was right,” Poehlman said.

Now recognized as Dalton’s first fully trained cardiologist to set up practice full-time in the North Georgia town, the retiring heart doctor was recognized Saturday evening at the 27th annual Dalton Heart Ball. The ball was at The Farm and is a fundraiser for the American Heart Association.

According to a biography ball organizers distributed, Poehlman has been the cardiologist for thousands of people in Whitfield and Murray counties for the past 35 years before retiring in November. He arrived from Emory in Decatur in 1977 and helped establish many of the first heart treatment programs at Hamilton and he was instrumental in establishing Dalton’s first chapter of the American Heart Association.

The youngest of three children, Poehlman grew up in Maryland and graduated with high honors from the University of Maryland with a degree in zoology. Poehlman said he enjoyed working with animals, including his job as a researcher at a poultry farm for a while.

“All of my friends were going to medical school, so I just followed them,” he said.

Poehlman said he knew he didn’t want to do surgery, but he found the heart very interesting and decided to specialize there. In 1977, he started Dalton Cardiology, which is recognized as Dalton’s first medical subspecialty. He has been on the medical staff at Hamilton for more than 35 years and has served in a number of roles, including medical staff president, department of medicine chair, county medical society president and on several other committees.

Dr. Bates Bailey, who said he was Dalton’s second cardiologist, said he and Poehlman shared calls for 32 years so they could each take breaks from being on call all the time. He said Poehlman introduced several new practices in the field to the Dalton area, including nuclear cardiology tests to evaluate various aspects of the heart.

“He’s a very strong, very highly motivated individual,” Bailey said. “He’s been a good solid citizen.”

Now Poehlman is devoting more time to outdoor activities like tending his two houses. He also enjoys fishing and woodworking and plans to work occasionally with the local health department.

“I miss it (practicing cardiology), but I’m just as happy trying something else,” he said. He said many of his patients over the years have become friends, and that’s been rewarding.

Gala director Shelley Armstrong said more than $160,000 was raised for the American Heart Association locally in the past year, about $20,000 more than the year before. The money goes toward research and education, officials said. Armstrong said research shows 80 percent of heart disease cases can be prevented through lifestyle changes.

For more information about the American Heart Association, visit www.heart.org.