Ken Criter, retired landscape architect and former professional football player, is no stranger to heart issues.
As a teen growing up in Wisconsin, Criter learned he had a heart murmur, a condition that produces a “whooshing” or “swishing” sound as blood flows rapidly through the heart. Some heart murmurs can be a sign of a serious condition. Others are harmless.
Criter’s heart murmur didn’t prevent him from leading a normal life for many years. He played football in high school and college, then as a professional linebacker for the Denver Broncos for eight years.
When he was in college, Criter could run a mile in four minutes and one second — an excellent time even for professional runners.
“That's the shape I was in,” said Criter, who lives in Elizabeth, Colorado. “I've always been in that kind of shape all my life.”
But genetics was not on Criter’s side.
His father had a triple bypass in his early 60s and his grandparents died of heart disease in their 60s. “Heart disease was very real in our family,” Criter said.
During his 50s, surgeons installed a stent in Criter’s heart — the first of 11. A stent is a small tube used to hold open weak or narrowed arteries. He later needed a pacemaker.
Five years ago, he suffered a heart attack while mowing his lawn. Following the heart attack, Criter was often short of breath. By the time he was 75, breathing had become harder, and his heart rate was often low.
Criter’s doctor at the time ran multiple tests including an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) but couldn’t pinpoint the cause.
Seeking another opinion, Criter decided to call cardiologist Jeffrey Rubinstein, MD, at Saint Joseph Hospital, part of Intermountain Health and the newly named Rocky Mountain Heart Institute. Dr. Rubinstein had put in one of his earlier stents. At the time of Criter’s call, Dr. Rubinstein was out for shoulder surgery, so Criter met with Jake Chanin, MD, Interventional Cardiologist and Medical Director of the Structural Heart Program at Saint Joseph Hospital and Rocky Mountain Heart Institute, Denver.
Dr. Chanin discovered that one of Criter’s heart valves, which prevent blood from flowing backward, was leaking. When the valve doesn't open, blood flow to the rest of the body is disturbed, resulting in chest pain and shortness of breath that can be fatal if untreated.
An alternative to open-heart surgery
Rather than open-heart surgery, Dr. Chanin suggested a minimally invasive alternative called TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement). Reaching the heart through a catheter threaded through a blood vessel in the leg, surgeons can replace faulty valves to improve blood flow in the heart.
Unlike open-heart surgery, TAVR has a short recovery time. Criter went home the day after his procedure. Most patients can resume normal activities within two weeks.
Last May, Dr. Chanin performed TAVR on Criter, who was happy to avoid invasive surgery. “Dr. Chanin and the people over there at Saint Joe’s, were absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “I was at a critical area in my life of living or not living. They gave me my life back.”
Rocky Mountain Heart Institute
TAVR is just one of a host of high-tech heart procedures doctors perform daily at the newly named Rocky Mountain Heart Institute, formerly SCL Health Heart & Vascular Institute, and part of Intermountain Health.
The Institute brings together many of the region's top providers—including Saint Joseph Hospital, Lutheran Medical Center, Good Samaritan Medical Center, Platte Valley Medical Center, National Jewish Health, Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and now, Intermountain Health—to deliver exceptional quality care and superior outcomes.
“Built upon long-standing clinical partnerships and drawing on current research, the Institute is cutting edge in its uniquely innovative and collaborative approach to heart and vascular care,” said Barb Jahn, chief operating officer for Intermountain Health’s Peaks Region.
The Rocky Mountain Heart Institute consists of four hospitals, eight clinics, and more than 50 cardiologists and providers, including specialists in electrophysiology, interventional cardiology, vascular surgeons, cardiothoracic surgeons, structural heart and vascular experts, and growing.
“The Institute isn’t a physical place but rather a coordinated multidisciplinary heart team that patients can access no matter which hospital in the system they enter for treatment,” explained Dr. Glenn Hirsch, chief of cardiology at National Jewish Health and Saint Joseph Hospital, and co-medical director for Rocky Mountain Heart Institute. “National Jewish Health doctors work alongside Intermountain Health doctors at Saint Joseph, and Kaiser Permanente doctors work alongside Intermountain Health doctors at Saint Joseph and Good Samaritan. Those clinical partnerships help deliver exceptional quality care and superior outcomes to patients."
When looking at the U.S. News and World Report rankings of the four Colorado hospitals that comprise the Institute, the program is among the highest rated for patient experience and among the best in the nation for treating heart failure. Saint Joseph Hospital, which serves as the Center of Excellence for the Institute, is ranked as “high performing” (significantly better than the national average) in TAVR, aortic valve surgery, heart bypass surgery, and more. In addition, Saint Joseph received a 3-star (top decile) score from The Society of Thoracic Surgeons in three heart surgery categories: coronary artery bypass, aortic valve repair, and mitral valve repair or replacement.
“Earning a single 3-star rating is an exceptional achievement; earning three separate 3-star ratings, in the three top categories, is a rare and extraordinary achievement,” stated Jahn. “We're proud to provide the Denver area with a heart and vascular program that not only delivers safe, patient-centered care, but also offers the most cutting-edge procedures and treatments.”
To learn more, or to make an appointment with one of the heart experts at Rocky Mountain Heart Institute, visit RockyMountainHeart.org or call 720-571-1994.