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Changing Times; Ongoing Excellence

Posted on February 12, 2020 in 100th Anniversary

Fort Sanders Regional 100th Anniversary GraphicCardiologist reflects on his years of medical practice at Fort Sanders Regional

If you ask interventional cardiologist Mike Ayres, MD, what’s changed at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center since he came on board, he will give you a simple and straightforward answer.

“Everything,” Dr. Ayres says. “I mean everything.”

Dr. Ayres

Dr. Ayres was hired to work as an orderly at Fort Sanders Regional in 1975 while he was a student at the University of Tennessee. He had been inspired by his grandfather to pursue the study of medicine, and ordered by his dad to get a job.

“I spent four of those five years working in the ER,” Dr. Ayres says, “but it was on the second floor. They had to bring patients to the ER on an elevator.”

Dr. Ayres says the structure of the building isn’t the only thing that’s changed. The whole hospital culture is different.

Fast Forward

For one thing, in 1975 it wasn’t unusual to see a doctor carrying a cigarette in his hand as he checked on hospital patients. Today, Fort Sanders Regional is a tobacco-free environment.

The whole approach to treating patients has changed thanks to advances in medicine. Many conditions that were considered hopeless a long time ago can be successfully treated today.

“We can alter the natural progression of a lot of disease processes now, whether it’s heart disease, cancer, diabetes or hypertension – we can change the outcome,” Dr. Ayres says.

Dr. Ayres can remember when angioplasty was first performed in the 1980s. In 1993, Dr. Ayres performed the first stent procedure in East Tennessee on a patient at Fort Sanders Regional.

“And now we do valve replacements without surgery,” Dr. Ayres says.   

Dr. Ayres was one of Covenant Health’s first cardiologists to be trained in the the groundbreaking procedure known as Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), which was first performed at Covenant Health in 2012. TAVR, a minimally invasive treatment for aortic stenosis, has given hope to more than 800 East Tennesseans who weren’t candidates for traditional heart surgery and who would have had no hope in days gone by.

Some things never change

Dr. Ayres says throughout the years, Fort Sanders Regional has always had a strong commitment to putting the patient first. There is also an unwavering commitment to the pursuit of excellence in healthcare.

“I think the community can be proud of the quality of physicians that exist in our hospital,” Dr. Ayres says. “Everybody’s board certified. That’s a standard that we established years ago. We take pride in that.”

Dr. Ayres has seen doctors join the hospital’s medical staff from many parts of the country. He welcomes them all, but there’s one group that he’s always especially pleased to see.

“I like it when people move back home,” Dr. Ayres says. “I like it when students go off like I did and train at outstanding programs around the country, and then want to bring their expertise back here to care for our East Tennessee patients.”

Of all the experiences he’s had in his career, Dr. Ayres says the best part of being a doctor has been the relationships he’s had along the way with his patients. Those relationships have even extended to Dr. Ayres’ involvement in the HonorAir Knoxville program, escorting veterans to Washington D.C. to visit war memorials.

“You have to love medicine,” he says. “You have to be dedicated and you have to want to take care of patients. It has to be a priority.”

After working at Fort Sanders Regional for more than four decades and performing more than 20,000 heart procedures, it’s clear that Dr. Ayres is practicing what he preaches. He is committed to his patients, committed to his hospital and committed to his community.

Dr. Ayres is another example of the many people who have brought “Regional Excellence” to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center during the hospital’s 100-year history.

To learn more about Dr. Ayres and The Heart Center at Fort Sanders Regional, visit FSRegional.com/cardiology.