Advanced Heart Failure Program medical director gets patients on the right path

Kelly McCants, M.D., has a mission to serve others

As medical director of Norton Heart & Vascular Institute’s Advanced Heart Failure Program, Kelly C. McCants, M.D., says his mission is to serve patients facing difficult health challenges.

“I think that’s the greatest gift — to serve. That’s what I try to do,” Dr. McCants said. “I’m at the end of the line. When the heart muscle begins to fail, that’s when you see someone with advanced heart failure.”

The creation of the Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Advanced Heart Failure Program means patients will no longer need to be referred to other hospitals when they’re diagnosed with heart failure. This will help reduce stress during an already difficult time for patients and families. It also puts Norton Healthcare on par with major hospitals nationally, according to Dr. McCants.

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Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dr. McCants said he drew inspiration from his mother and older brother. He is the first physician and only the fourth college graduate among 54 members of his extended family. His brother, now a police captain, and his mother, who went back to school at age 40, were the first and second college graduates. A cousin was third.

Dr. McCants attended Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, and completed his internship, residency and fellowship at the University of Louisville. He returned to Louisville after a stint at Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital, where he was director of cardiac transplantation.

While he was in Atlanta, Dr. McCants embraced his other passion — food — opening a seafood restaurant called Favors & Flavors. Dr. McCants has always loved seafood and Cajun cuisine.

“I grew up in Alabama and Florida, from 5 years old, catching crabs and catching shrimp and boiling them in the back yard with the family,” he said. The specialty of the house at Favors & Flavors is the Bunch Drive Boil, a dish with shrimp, snow crab and crawfish named for the street where he grew up.

Serving others is the link between his two passions, medicine and food.

“Frustrated customers come to you with their own burdens. As a service provider, you try to give them a little bit of a smile,” Dr. McCants said. “Someone comes into the office and thinks they’re dying, and you tell them you can rebuild their heart — you can imagine the smile that puts on their face.”

As a physician specializing in advanced heart failure and mechanical circulatory support, news is not always so positive. Most of his patients are very sick. For some patients, Dr. McCants said, the goal is simply to keep them out of the hospital and give them the best quality of life possible. Another group needs major heart surgery, such as a ventricular assist device or a heart transplant.

“My job as the gatekeeper is to make sure each patient is on the appropriate pathway, regardless of what they look like, how much money they have and where they live,” he said.

For some patients with long-standing heart disease or high blood pressure (hypertension), Dr. McCants said a strict exercise and diet program paired with medication management can rebuild their heart muscle so it functions normally.

Now that he’s back in Louisville, Dr. McCants wants to help educate African Americans about heart disease.

“Seven in 10 African Americans younger than 40 have heart failure because their hypertension went untreated,” he said, adding that he’s seen patients in their 20s who need heart transplants because they didn’t get proper medications in their teens.

“I’m especially sensitive to the young folks that come in,” Dr. McCants said. “If we catch them early enough, we can change the course of half of these patients.”

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