Living in St. George is a dream come true for Ken Martin. He takes advantage of the balmy climate and access to several national parks to stay active and entertain visitors. Martin regularly checks the step count on his smart watch, consistently tracking 10,000-15,000 steps a day. But his biggest love is outdoor cycling, peaking around 200 miles per week.
Despite his diligence in maintaining an active lifestyle, Martin sensed something was "off" in early 2021.
"I knew something was wrong," he says. "I was busy in my house and yard and cycling daily, but I began to feel like my body wasn't getting enough oxygen. I like to be a go-getter, but I just couldn't go!"
Martin's keen awareness of his body and a gnawing feeling that something wasn't right led him to visit with a local cardiologist. He received an echocardiogram to assess blood flow in his heart, but his symptoms were ultimately dismissed.
Just weeks later, Martin lost consciousness during a moderate bike ride. A bystander rushed to Martin's aid and helped him recover his breath and stability. The bystander said he was a physician and recommended Martin seek care at University of Utah Hospital.
Martin had suffered a heart attack in 2012 due to coronary artery disease: a narrowing of the coronary artery, often due to age or genetic factors. Martin was treated and released but stayed vigilant about monitoring his body for any recurrent symptoms.
After blacking out on his bike ride, Martin was determined to find a solution. He got in touch with his primary care doctor and asked for a referral to U of U Health's Cardiovascular Center.
Martin was seen by Anwar Tandar, MD, an interventional/structural cardiologist. Tandar reviewed the results of the earlier echocardiogram with Martin, gathered important details about his medical history, and arranged for him to have further testing done right away. Tandar immediately noticed critical narrowing in Martin's aortic passages. Martin had been correct in his unofficial assessment. He wasn't getting the oxygenated blood he needed to function.
Martin would need treatment for his aortic valve right away. At U of U Health's Cardiovascular Center, each case is reviewed by a multidisciplinary team of physicians, including an interventional cardiologist and a heart surgeon. The group agreed Martin was an ideal—and urgent—candidate for a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) procedure.
This procedure relieves low blood flow in the heart due to aortic passages that have become too narrow or calcified to allow for proper circulation. TAVR replaces the patient's damaged valve with a new artificial valve. Unlike traditional heart procedures, TAVR is a minimally invasive surgery, performed with a small catheter. The advanced technique of TAVR and expert anesthesiologists at U of U Health allows patients to remain conscious during the procedure. Less medication often means a faster recovery and less time in the hospital. Procedure regulations stipulate the presence of both an interventional/structural cardiologist and a heart surgeon during the procedure. Each physician shares essential roles in the surgery, ensuring comprehensive and expert care for the patient at each step. According to Vikas Sharma, MD, the cardiothoracic surgeon who treated Martin, this team environment is one factor that makes U of U Health an excellent place to work and receive care.
"Each member of our team supports the others," Sharma explains. "We all work well together. We share our individual expertise in ways that complement each other so it becomes a collective way to provide the best care for our patients."
U of U Health is home to a specialized clinic, exclusively treating and serving patients with structural cardiac conditions such as aortic stenosis. Clinical coordinator Mila Hansen, APRN, acts as the first and last point of contact for all TAVR patients. She schedules appointments, coordinates necessary testing, and makes sure each patient feels connected throughout the process. This singular focus benefits Martin and other patients like him by streamlining visits and maximizing communication.
"My experience at U of U Health and University Hospital made me feel like I was something special," Martin laughs. "I wondered if they thought I was a VIP! From the office staff to my nurses and surgery team, everyone I came into contact with was incredible. I knew I was getting incredible care and superior medical attention."
According to Sharma, aortic stenosis remains undertreated in the general population. He credits Martin with paying close attention to his body and seeking the care he needed.
"Dr. Tandar answered all my questions in a concise, direct manner," Martin says. "His ability to speak to me about the procedure in a clear and descriptive way helped erase any fear I had about the operation. I knew he and Dr. Sharma were the best doctors for the job."
Martin's positive experience didn't end after surgery, extending to the level of care provided by doctors and nurses stopping by to check on him and personally calling his family with updates on Martin's condition (at the time of this stay, hospital visitors were limited due to COVID-19 precautions).
"I knew I had a great team behind me," he recalls. "I felt like I was mirroring the confidence of everyone I interacted with. I didn't hesitate to have the surgery. The risks of the procedure were minimal in comparison to the benefits of maintaining my active lifestyle."
Martin began to feel better right away. He immediately had less shortness of breath and noticed more coloring in his arms and legs as circulation improved. He remained incredibly connected to his body, paying attention to his condition both before and after surgery. He began light physical activity the day after surgery, realizing his body needed to retrain and recondition before hopping on his bike. For now, he's celebrating each small victory, feeling confident in his ability to get back on the road and perform well when the time comes.
"I'd come back here anytime, but I hope I don't have to," he laughs. "I'm ready to get going!"