Passion for entertainment: Chattanooga doctor decides to pursue lifelong love of singing, stage

Passion for entertainment: Chattanooga doctor decides to pursue lifelong love of singing, stage

November 25th, 2013 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

Dr. Deborah Poteet-Johnson had to undergo surgery before she could return to her love of singing.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

It was an itch, says Dr. Deborah Poteet-Johnson, that never quite got scratched.

There was the never-before-given drama award she won in high school, the church choirs to which she lent her talent, the months as a tour guide at Graceland, the voice lessons, the ballroom dance instructions.

Somewhere inside her, Poteet-Johnson believes, is an entertainer.

"It never went away," the Chattanooga physician says. "I missed being on the stage. The audience feedback -- there's nothing like it."

Today, Poteet-Johnson, 56, with the help of professional guidance, is pushing her entertainment talent to the forefront to see what might happen. Indeed, she won the overall talent award and the scene study award on the Global Stars Network Convention's recent fall cruise on the Carnival Ecstasy ship from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas.

She's not planning to give up her general medicine practice but wants to "serve the Lord in whatever capacity he puts me."

When Poteet-Johnson reaches for the stars, it's on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry she'd like to find herself. Or maybe in a one-woman show, she says, where she could exercise her passion of singing, the acting that "comes easy to me," the ballroom dancing, the stories she relates from her practice.

None of that would be possible, though, without the 2004 correction of a heart problem -- a rare condition in which Poteet-Johnson's blood flowed backwards through the septum -- the wall that runs down the center of the heart and separates the left and right chambers. The problem dropped her blood's oxygen level -- and originally flummoxed doctors.

"I'm the one who figured it out, based on the Lord's guidance," she says.

Poteet-Johnson says she started feeling less than normal in the 1990s with shortness of breath she thought might be asthma. Later, she began retaining fluid, her fingers turning blue and extended conversations becoming difficult.

"I was praying that I don't want to live if I can't feel better," she says.

A tiny, pencil eraser-sized hole in Poteet-Johnson's heart was detected, but doctors said it shouldn't be causing all the trouble she was having. But with the problem, anything involving her expressing her entertainment talent was out.

"I would get hoarse," Poteet-Johnson says. "I couldn't hit low notes. I didn't think I'd ever sing again, perform again."

But later, even during the surgical procedure that would take care of her problem in 2008, she felt better.

"I was heavily sedated," Poteet-Johnson says, "but I felt I could breathe."

Eventually, she says, she could hit the high notes and the low notes that escaped her for a long time; she even was told that her labored breathing may have strengthened her vocal muscles.

Poteet-Johnson says her medical procedure and the closing of her then-practice the same year helped reorganization her priorities.

"I realized I had to go for it," she said.

In time, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and University of Tennessee Health Science Center graduate became acquainted with national talent scout Deann Foltz of Chattanooga's The Studio in the Mountains. Poteet-Johnson has trained with the scout for about six months, has participated in the talent showcase "Chattanooga's Finest" at the Chattanooga Convention Center and was selected to be one of some 75 people to participate in the Global Stars Network Cruise.

"She's had this passion to be an entertainer, to make people happy," says Foltz, who's spent 44 years in the business.

At Poteet-Johnson's audition, Foltz says she was "totally blown over. She has lots of talent."

And her client's age need not be a detriment to her desires.

"It doesn't matter what age you are," she says. "It matters how talented you are."

Fellow national talent scout Jim Vandergriff from Naples, Fla., and an associate of Foltz's, agrees.

"We look for people who don't sound like everybody else," he says.

The cruise, Foltz says, was a particularly good thing for Poteet-Johnson because it placed her in front of 16 to 20 agents. It also offered additional training and performing opportunities.

"You have to be really good," Foltz says. "I'm fussy about who I take. My reputation is on the line."

Now, she says, she'll follow up with the agents to see how they be interested in using Poteet-Johnson.

In the meantime, the doctor has found time to be a paid extra with her husband, John, in "42," the recent film about Jackie Robinson filmed partially in Chattanooga. She also has a recurring role in the locally made "Life With Hope," a faith-based Web series.

"I feel like I have talent," Poteet-Johnson says, "and I'd like to share [it]. I have lots of ideas."

People "who may have had a burning desire" should realize "God gave you those feelings," she says, "that he gave you a big dream for a reason" and "don't give up."

Exactly how that will happen remains to be seen, but she says her training will be beneficial even in working with her attention deficit disorder patients, in passing along advice for healthier living and in reaching people who believe themselves trapped in their day-to-day lives.

"I think it makes me a better physician," she says.

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.