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Cardiologist who helped start cath lab retires after 35 years
Ferguson steps down after decades of healing hearts at Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic
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Dr. Robert Ferguson speaks with former colleagues Geneva Evans and Nancy Spain during Ferguson's retirement party at Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic on Friday. Many family members and former colleagues attended the retirement celebration for Ferguson. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Dr. Robert Ferguson has been a cardiologist for 35 years. That’s 3½ decades watching medical technology evolve. Three and a half decades “fussing at patients” to encourage them to live healthier lifestyles. And, 3½ decades doing what he couldn’t live without: helping people.

On Friday, current and retired staff of Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic showed up for a retirement luncheon to honor Ferguson, a man who was instrumental in starting the cath lab and cardiac program at the facility.

Having joined the clinic in 1980, Ferguson, 68, has seen a lot of changes in the medical field.

“The treatment has changed tremendously over the past 35 years,” Ferguson said. “When I first started we could do very little except control the pain and control the blood pressure. Things continue to evolve. Newer medications. Newer drugs. Pacemakers have come a long way. They do more now than just prevent a slow heart rate. They can resynchronize the heart to allow it to pump more effectively.”

The gadgets and drugs weren’t quite as effective 35 years ago, he said.

When Ferguson joined Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic, the facility already had a long history of influential doctors.

Founded in 1953 in a small, renovated house on East Broad Street, the clinic has grown into a multi-specialty practice of 34 physicians, occupying 52,000 square feet of space in the Guilford Medical Complex on Jesse Jewell Parkway.

Drs. Henry Jennings, W.D. Stribling and Samuel Poole established the clinic in 1953. In 1980, the trio recruited Ferguson.

“Initially, I was the only one doing cardiac cath for almost 10 years, and now we’ve got close to 30 cardiologists,” Ferguson said. “We’ve been fortunate to have excellent cardiac surgeons and excellent cardiac interventionalists who have maintained the tradition that Dr. Jennings, Dr. Stribling and Dr. Poole started.

It’s been an enjoyable 35-year journey, he said.

In his experience treating people who visit the clinic, Ferguson said he’s “fussed and fussed at folks for years about lifestyle changes.”

He said that for those hoping to avoid major heart problems, “exercise is key. At least 30 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobic exercise five days a week.”

He also encourages weight reduction, avoiding tobacco of any kind and steering clear of high-fat, high-cholesterol foods, particularly red meat, fried foods and dairy.

“Moderation is the key,” he said. “The problem I’ve seen over the years is that everybody has their own definition of the word.”

Ferguson said he will miss all the patients he’s met over the years as well as employees of Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic.

Holly Brannon, who has worked there for 38 years, said patients “always requested Dr. Ferguson frequently as their cardiologist. He had a good reputation in Gainesville as an excellent physician.”

Co-worker Patty Cook said Ferguson is “from the old school, and he’s very thorough with patients. He takes the time to listen to them, and that’s why they love him.”

Ferguson said the interaction with patients “is what keeps you going. That’s what helped keep me doing this all these years.”

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