After 61 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Howard L. Martin, of Zachary, has retired at age 88.
Martin, Dr. James Brown, Dr. Benjamin Burl “B.B.” Lane and Dr. Harry Morris were the four founding physicians of Lane Memorial Hospital.
“You know, after being busy in medicine all this time, it leaves a void when you stop,” Martin said. “I will miss the people — the patients, other health care workers, environmental services people, the janitors, cafeteria and maintenance workers — all of them. Medicine is a team profession, and I’ve always looked at it that way.”
Martin grew up loving the outdoors. He enjoyed fishing, hunting and running through creek beds with his siblings on their family’s 250-acre property in Weyanoke. His father was the sheriff of West Feliciana Parish, and his family lived at Ellerslie-Greenwood plantation.
Following graduation from Julius Freehand High School in West Feliciana, he attended a year at a military prep school in Jacksonville, Florida, before joining the Air Force, where he spent 18 months in a medical unit.
Martin’s medical studies were performed at LSU Medical School in New Orleans. After graduating in 1953, he did an internship and his residency at Charity Hospital before settling in Zachary and beginning his career at Lane Memorial.
Martin said general surgeons did just about everything back then.
“General surgery was the basis of most surgeries before they started branching off into specialty areas,” Martin said. “I performed surgeries head-to-toe, in the chest and burred holes in heads and helped with deliveries.” He said once he was called upon to assist a midwife who had taken ill, so he helped to deliver a baby.
“I remember walking through the pasture with my medical bag to a shotgun house and helping her with the squat method of childbirth.Afterwards, she was fine, and we talked about birth control. She told me one of the other doctors told her to cross her legs and sleep on her stomach,” Martin joked. It was common back then to assist in community hospitals like the ones in Clinton, New Roads and St. Francisville, he said.
Martin continued to study medicine as it advanced, attending the universities of South Carolina and Tennessee. One of the programs he and a Zachary’s doctor completed was in laparoscopic studies.
“We wanted to practice our newly learned techniques as did the nurses, who were required to assist. Since a pig’s gall bladder is closely related to a human’s, we were loaned two pigs to operate on by a farmer in West Feliciana,” Martin remembers.
Upon the doctors’ return to Lane, they set up in the hospital morgue and performed “surgery” on the first pig, which was in the back of the other doctor’s truck.
“It was a success, but before the second pig could be anesthetized, it got loose, running around the grounds of the hospital. There were nurses and doctors in white lab coats chasing after this little pig,” Martin said. “As the story goes, the first pig survived the surgery, but we think the second pig did not and was captured later ... and eaten.”
He said back then, the decision to perform surgery was made after a physical exam, talking with a patient and looking at their medical history.
Martin says he’s most impressed with technology and advances in the areas of antibiotics, digital scanning, magnetic resonance imaging and scope work such as with laparoscopic and endoscopic surgeries.
After Martin’s general surgery years, he provided physician’s services at Dixon Correctional Institute, Louisiana State Penitentiary, the Louisiana War Veterans home in Jackson and the mental hospitals in Greenwell Springs and Jackson.
He has scrubbed in with residents, rather they’ve scrubbed in with him, at Earl K. Long and Charity hospitals, and he has worked alongside others at the Baton Rouge General, Our Lady of the Lake and Lane, where he spent 42 years in general surgery.
“In the 11 years that I have been in Zachary and at Lane, I have grown to know Dr. Martin as a good friend, wonderful story teller, super physician and an all-around great person,” Randy Olson, CEO at Lane, said.
Martin has helped out in the emergency room, tending to thousands of patients from Baker, Baton Rouge, Central, Clinton, New Roads, St. Francisville and Mississippi.
“His shoes will not be filled. As he retires, we wish him well and thank him for his dedication to the health and welfare of the communities we serve,” Olson said.
Among Martin, his first wife who died of a malignancy, and his current wife, Rhonda, there are seven Martin offspring. The couple also raised a niece and nephew, he said. The Martin children include a son living in Alaska who is as an attorney for the Federal Aviation Administration; a son in engineering; two sons who work in construction; a daughter who is an emergency room physician in New Orleans; and two daughters who live in the Zachary area who are educators.
The Martins also have 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“The little ones come over a lot to see him frequently,” Rhonda Martin said. “They love their pawpaw.”
Martin, who says he can usually be found outdoors on his tractor, has been unwell lately, but added it’s important to have goals.
One of his goals was to obtain his private pilot’s license, which he did many years ago. He is instrument certified. The Martins shared stories of his flights to Alaska, the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert.
“I’m happy to have him home, but I’m not happy he can’t move around as he would like to,” Rhonda said. Recently, Martin resigned from active service on the board of directors of the Bank of Zachary and its holding company, Zachary Bancshares, Inc. but will continue to serve as director emeritus.
Martin has served on the bank’s board since 1974 as well as on various boards and committees over the years.
“Dr. Martin is a special person and a special friend, and we’re honored to serve with him,” Sam Johnson, Bank of Zachary’s board chairman, said.
“While he is ending his active service, we look forward to his continued guidance and support as director emeritus.”
In May 2013, the Howard L. Martin Medical Building on the Lane campus was dedicated in his honor.
It houses the Lane Wound & Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy centers, where Martin has worked for the past nine years.
A retirement party was held in his honor Oct. 28.