The hospital nearest Spring Place resident Tim Howard’s home will forever be known to him as Murray County Memorial Hospital.
“Yes, I still call it Murray County,” he said, referring to the medical center known today as AdventHealth Murray.
As Murray County’s historian and longtime volunteer with the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society, Howard has spent a lifetime preserving the community’s heritage and teaching others about its past.
“We have preserved a church, an old hotel, a train depot and caboose,” said Howard, who also spent 30 years overseeing programs at the Chief Vann House, a local historic site. “We’ve surveyed cemeteries and assisted researchers from high school and college kids doing term papers to people all across the country doing genealogy research.”
He spent 32 years teaching Georgia and American history in Murray County schools, retiring six years ago from Bagley Middle School, but continuing to serve as a substitute teacher since then. He’s also quick to share how the local hospital got its start after residents convinced county leaders of the need for one more than 70 years ago.
“To help that cause along, there were two or three people who left bequests in the mid-1940s that allowed them to build the hospital on donated land,” he said.
Murray County Memorial Hospital opened its doors in 1949 on the corner of Walnut Street and 4th Avenue.
“The building housed the health department downstairs and then we had the hospital upstairs,” he said.
Howard was born there in April 1960.
“I went to that emergency room with an earache when I was about three,” he said. “I had surgery there in 1974 and then, shortly thereafter, we got what we still call ‘The New Hospital’ on Old Dalton Ellijay Road.”
He saw the hospital’s name change to Murray Medical Center in 1995 and then to AdventHealth Murray in 2019. Regardless of the facility’s name or
ownership, Howard always turned to the medical center for his health care needs.
“I always think of Murray County first,” he said. “It’s close and it is home and, generally, we know the people we are going to be seeing and who will be taking care of us. I’ve never had a complaint about the quality of care.”
Over the years, Howard has visited the hospital for routine health care exams and tests, as well as more emergent needs like a gallbladder attack, a bout with kidney stones and, on July 3, a heart attack. But thanks to a quick diagnosis by the Emergency Department team, Howard’s family history didn’t repeat itself that night.
“Five generations of the Howard men have all had heart attacks, and I’m the only one who’s lived to talk about it,” he said.
Howard had been working in his yard during the late Friday afternoon, then eaten a snack and gone to bed early.
“I woke up about 10:15 to 10:30, hurting in my arms — not the classic symptoms you’ve seen on all the posters at the doctor offices,” he said.
At first, he attributed the pain to muscle spasms from the yard work.
“After about 10 minutes, I realized it was not muscle spasms from the yard work I had been doing,” he said. “It was more severe than muscle spasms and didn’t let up. It got worse.”
He called for his nephew, Jacob, who lives with him, and Jacob drove him to AdventHealth Murray.
“It took about five minutes max,” Howard said of the drive. “By the time I got there, I was hurting in my chest.”
Emergency Department team members tended to Howard as soon as he arrived.
“I sat down in the chair and then it seemed like before I was even in the room, they had done an EKG (electrocardiogram), and they said, ‘You’re having a heart attack.’”
The team at AdventHealth Murray administered medications and arranged for Howard to be airlifted to an Erlanger Health System hospital in Chattanooga to have a stent inserted.
“In an hour I was in a helicopter on the way,” he said. “The helicopter folks were wonderful and kept constant check on me. I remember getting off the helicopter and going into the building, and the next thing I remember is they were putting a [bandage] on my wrist, and they had already put the stent in.”
Howard came home from Erlanger on July 7 with instructions to undergo cardiac rehabilitation and a list of medications to take.
“I went back to my primary care physician here at Murray for bloodwork the week after I came home,” he said.
He’s also had follow-up appointments with Erlanger, but has been mainly focused on his recovery back in his native Murray County so he can continue enjoying his retirement.
“I’ve given up substituting and no longer work at the Vann House,” he said. “My time is mostly my own now.”
In reflecting on the night of the heart attack, Howard said he never considered going anywhere other than AdventHealth Murray.
“Some of my students now work there,” he said. “I would without hesitation recommend them because it’s our hospital, and it’s closest and it’s easy to be seen with no waiting. I’ve never been disappointed with the care I received at Murray County.”