Cover photo for Ronald Lee Poland, MD's Obituary
1940 Ronald 2024

Ronald Lee Poland, MD

August 15, 1940 — May 4, 2024

Ron was born to Belle and Charles Poland on August 15, 1940, and was raised in Philadelphia. He wanted to be a doctor from age 6, when the future Surgeon General C. Everett Koop made a housecall to him when he was sick.

Ron graduated from Jefferson Medical College, then did a pediatric residency and a fellowship at Johns Hopkins with Jerry O'Dell, with a stint in the Army dropped in there. The first of his many scientific papers was a landmark, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Poland RL, Odell GD. Physiologic Jaundice: the enterohepatic circulation of bilirubin, 1971). After fellowship he took a job as the Chief of Neonatology (and the first neonatologist) at Wayne State University in Detroit. He stayed for 18 years, growing his new division into a first-rank academic neonatology group, including successfully competing to join the first round of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Neonatal Research Network (1986) and serving as the Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Fetus and Newborn (1985-1989). 

In 1989, Ron met the great love of his life, Kristi Watterberg (also a neonatologist), and took the position of Chairman of Pediatrics at Penn State University, a position he held for 10 years. During that time, the number of faculty in pediatrics doubled and research funding increased 20-fold (Hershey Chronicle, 1999). 

After that successful decade, he joined Kristi in returning to her hometown of Albuquerque, where they both continued their academic careers in neonatology at the University of New Mexico. Ron and Kristi loved traveling, across the country and around the globe, on spectacular cycling and walking trips, the best of which was right next door - a rim-to-rim 5-day hiking trip through the Grand Canyon, planned by Kristi's brother Peter and sister-in-law Tina. 

Ron struggled with many medical difficulties over the past 15 years, always fighting his way back with resolve and tenacity, 'soldiering on' with dignity, until the combination of kidney failure and other issues became overwhelming at the very last, and he came home to his best friend and his favorite breakfast of bagels and lox. 

He is survived by his wife Kristi, two children, Jonathan and Amanda, three stepchildren, Joshua Johnson, Jenn Thomas and Jessie Johnson, and 8 grandchildren. He found so much joy, love, and laughter in the world before his increasing ill-health gradually took over, and we hope he has now found peace. 

He left us so much love, and we will miss him greatly. If you wish to honor him, some of his favorite charities were Médecins Sans Frontières, CARE, Planned Parenthood, and the Carter Center.

To send flowers to the family in memory of Ronald Lee Poland, MD, please visit our flower store.


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