Dr. John L. Hedeman dies at age 88

Annapolis physician was still making house calls at the time of his retirement

August 03, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Dr. John Louis "D.J." Hedeman, a retired doctor who was still carrying the same black physician's bag at the end of his more-than-four-decade career as at the beginning, died Thursday of heart failure at Peninsula Medical Center in Salisbury.

The longtime Annapolis resident was 88.

Dr. Hedeman, the son of a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad chief testing engineer and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Echodale Avenue.

He was a 1939 Polytechnic Institute graduate and earned a bachelor's degree in 1942 from St. John's College in Annapolis.

From 1943 until his discharge in 1945, Dr. Hedeman served as a bombsight mechanic in Spinazzola, Italy, with the Army Air Forces' 46oth Bomb Group of the 15th Air Force. He later was sent to Fortaleza, Brazil, to assist in bringing aircraft and personnel back from the European Theater.

His decorations included the Distinguished Unit Citation.

"He would often tell me stories from the war, and I would ask if he was ever in immediate danger," said a daughter, Jody Couser of Annapolis.

"He would say, 'Only once that I know of,' when his transport ship was being bombed. He was down below decks playing chess with his buddies, thinking it was yet another drill," she said. "It wasn't until after it was over that he learned how much danger they really were in with bombs dropping all around them."

When Dr. Hedeman was given a final physical before being discharged, the physician remarked that he should have been classified 4F because he was so skinny.

"At Johns Hopkins, his colleagues would later call him 'Dr. Bones,' and not because he was studying to be an orthopedist," Ms. Couser said, with a laugh.

After completing several post-graduate courses at Gettysburg College, Dr. Hedeman entered Johns Hopkins medical school, where he studied medicine on the GI Bill of Rights.

After earning his medical degree in 1951, he completed both an internship and residency in internal medicine at Hopkins.

Dr. Hedeman, who was known as "D.J.," short for "Dr. John," practiced internal medicine in Annapolis for 43 years before retiring in 1998.

He opened his first office on Cathedral Street and later moved to an office on Forest Drive.

"He still made house calls and carried the same black bag that he bought in 1955 when he opened his practice," Ms. Couser said.

In an interview with The Capital at the time of his retirement, Dr. Hedeman reflected on why he continued to make house calls long after the practice went out of fashion.

"It was the only human thing to do, really," he said. "When I began, I loved the art of medicine. Now we have so much science in medicine, we've forgotten about the art."

"Believing that HMOs would take away the independence that he enjoyed while treating his patients, he never accepted any form of managed-care plans," Ms. Couser said. "Any patient that called the office spoke directly to him when the call was received and appointments were made within 24 hours."

His wife of 40 years, the former Joanne Brickey, managed his office.

"It was the best experience of my life. Swinging doors between the front room and the medical room separated us," said Mrs. Hedeman.

"When we were at the office, I called him 'Doctor' and at home I called him 'John,' and I made him take out the garbage," she said, laughing.

Known as an excellent diagnostician, Dr. Hedeman enjoyed playing a game with his family at the dinner table.

"He'd give us symptoms and then we had to play 20 questions with him until we figured out what was wrong with the imaginary patient," Mrs. Hedeman said.

James H. Sepull, and his wife, Donna S. Sepull, were both patients and longtime friends.

Mr. Sepull recalled returning from a business trip and not feeling well. He called Dr. Hedeman who insisted he come right to his office.

"The waiting room was full of patients and he took me right in. After we swapped a few jokes, he gave me an EKG, and during the test, there was a lawnmower idling outside," recalled Mr. Sepull.

"I thought maybe the lawnmower had affected the test, but he must have seen something wrong because he left a roomful of patients and put me right in his car," he said. "We drove right to the hospital where he admitted me and called my wife."

Mr. Sepull described Dr. Hedeman as a "stupendous diagnostician" who could "ferret out the most subtle of symptoms and arrive at an accurate diagnosis."

"He was very stoic and had a wry sense of humor," said Mrs. Sepull.

Mary E. Wilkinson and her husband had been patients for nearly 40 years.

"He was liked by everybody. He was their friend," said Mrs. Wilkinson. "We'd call him and he'd tell us to come right over and he'd see us. And if he had to, he'd come to the house. We thought the world of him."

In 2007, the longtime Annapolis resident moved to Mallard Landing, a Salisbury retirement community.

A World War II buff, he also was a fan of Sir Winston Churchill and collected Churchill memorabilia. In 1974, Dr. Hedeman presented 125 volumes and other Churchill-related material to St. John's College.

He also enjoyed playing bridge and gin rummy and was a member of the Annapolitan Club and the Annapolis Yacht Club.

Services are private.

In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include two other daughters, Cara Clifford and Leslie Spring, both of Austin, Texas; a stepson, Jack Anderson of Vienna, Va.; a stepdaughter, Julie French of Edgewater; and 12 grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Ellen Sak ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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