Dr. Austin Ward, a McCracken County native, returned home to his roots recently to practice medicine, as he will perform heart and lung surgeries for the same hospital he was born in.
Deep family roots and a desire to provide top health care in Paducah were draws for the 33-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon, as he takes the next step in his medical career. He’s been busy for years with education, training and work. He had a cardiothoracic surgery fellowship at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and completed a general surgery residency and medical school at the University of Kentucky.
“My parents are here,” Ward told The Sun.
“My sister’s here. My wife’s dad is here and her sister’s here, so I have three kids that love being back this way and to have the opportunity to provide great care in the community I grew up with — there’s nothing better to me.”
Ward, a 2005 graduate of Reidland High School, is perhaps a familiar face to longtime customers of Bob’s Drive-In, where he used to help his father, Neil Ward, with the family business. His mother, Ronna Ward, hails from the family behind another local favorite, Parker’s Drive-In.
“My dad dropped out of college when he was 19 and bought Bob’s Drive-In on the Southside and he’s had it ever since,” he said.
“I worked there, starting when I was about 10 or 12, and even worked there through college — carhopping and cooking in the kitchen. And then he started Neil’s Catering (over 20) years ago and he’s done that as well since, so that’s kind of been our family business. My mom helps him do that too.”
However, Ward forged his own path in medicine and his sister, Haley, also joined the health care profession, working as a neonatal nurse practitioner. He’s always liked working with his hands, and wanted to be a doctor as a child. He remembers watching “Rescue 911” all the time.
“I’m kind of a math and physics minded type person, so like flow dynamics and physics of cardiology, and the heart and the way it works really appeal to me,” he said.
“The other thing is, we do big surgeries and I love doing big cases where I get to rebuild something or use my hands to redo something ... and a lot of different specialties have gone to either minimally invasive or smaller interventions for problems.”
Ward started work for Baptist Health Medical Group Cardiothoracic Surgery in August, where he joined Dr. Nicholas Lopez.
He specializes in cardiothoracic surgery — treating valvular and ischemic heart disease — in addition to diseases of the lungs and esophagus, according to Baptist Health Paducah. He focuses on valve repair and replacement, such as minimally invasive valve surgery, transcatheter treatments and coronary artery bypass surgery. He also does minimally invasive treatment for lung diseases.
“Coronary artery disease is when the arteries that give blood to the muscle of the heart get blocked, so we do bypasses on them. Whereas, valve disease is you have four valves in your heart and they can either be leaky or too tight,” Ward said. “And we have to either fix them or replace them.”
In particular, Ward noted he’s experienced with robotic thoracic surgery and can do alternative access, such as through the carotid artery, for transcatheter aortic valve replacement. TAVR is an innovative procedure that can be a minimally invasive alternative to more traditional heart surgery.
“Some people can’t have it through their groin because of bad arteries and that’s common in patients that have aortic stenosis,” he explained.
“The same reason you have aortic stenosis causes you to have femoral artery disease, so a lot of times those patients then are either left without having their aortic valve replaced — which if you have severe AS, your life expectancy’s about two years, which is really sad, because they should still have the treatment — or you have to do a really high risk surgery on it, which is not ideal.”
Ward said he’s focused on giving patients the most options they can have here in Paducah.
“I want to spend my whole career here,” he added. “I think it’s a great place to raise kids. (My wife) Brooke and I talked a long time ago about how we would love to raise our kids back where we grew up, so I don’t plan on leaving.”