KU Cares: Jayhawks on the Frontlines - Dr. Travis Batts

Dr. Travis Batts is a board-certified cardiac specialist with a focus on disease prevention, nutrition, fitness optimization and cardiovascular screening in San Antonio, Texas. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Biochemistry from the University of Kansas in 2000 and his medical doctorate (MD) from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, before practicing medicine for over 10 years. He was a letter winner on the men’s track and field team as a Jayhawk from 1996-2000, where he was a sprinter in the Crimson and Blue. He currently serves as Medical Director of the Cardiology clinic at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center. He is an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine for the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University College of Medicine. Dr. Batts is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology (FACC) and serves on the National Nutritional Working Group. Dr. Batts and his wife, Taryn, live in San Antonio, Texas with their four children, Camryn, Quentin, Nia and Trevon.

 Q: What is your role in working with the Coronavirus and what has the pandemic been like for you?

“As a physician, more specifically a cardiologist, this has been a trying time. As a cardiologist, we are prepared to approach things from a very algorithmic perspective, meaning A = B = C, and that’s the beauty of my profession. It makes the movement of patients and decisions structured and transparent. However, in the realm of the coronavirus, I can tell you that it has changed how we think about the body and the impacted by disease. Every day as we find out new information, we make a game plan. Your game plan moves along and things are going well. Just as quickly as you have one successful play, you have other information that the other team has adjusted. And that team, or who we are playing against is the coronavirus.  As quickly as we think we have it, it adjusts.  Whether it be random mutations or new “pre-existing” conditions that increase a patient’s risk.  Thus, on one hand, it has been tiring, it has been taxing not only on myself but my family, but it has also been rewarding when you have those wins. So that’s what I think has galvanizes my resolve and many other physicians to push forward in aide of patients at this very trying time.”

Q: What sacrifices have you and your family had to make during this pandemic?

“When it comes down to sacrifice as a physician, that’s not something that’s foreign to us or anyone that is in a profession geared toward service. One of the first points of sacrifice is time. The time that I would normally come home and enjoy with family and have time with my kids, we still do, however it has certainly been truncated due to working to stay up-to-date on the information that is out there and managing patients both in an inpatient and outpatient setting, while at the same time, managing my own safety. The next thing that it has changed is the relational nature of medicine. The thing that links me to medicine, is the ability to engage with people on a level where you connect. What this pandemic has done, it has created a barrier. It has changed how we approach care. Talking with my patients on the phone and trying to envision their symptoms through what they say, has certainly changed that connectedness. The other challenge that this has brought has been energy. Many of the things that I would do to relax or refuel, have also changed. The communal nature of exercise and fitness for everyone has been reduced.  So, from a time perspective, a connectedness perspective and that communal well-being perspective it has definitely changed and forced us to sacrifice all those things in the spirit of health and trying to eliminate the spread of the virus.”

Q: What is the impact the coronavirus has had on the San Antonio area?

“San Antonio is a beautiful city. It is an old city with historic buildings, some of the oldest buildings in the country. There’s a great Spanish-American heritage here. I feel blessed to be a part of such a rich culture. One of the benefits is experiencing that culture is the immersive nature of going downtown to see the Alamo or walking a mile down the Riverwalk.  On this walk, one can visualize some of the most beautiful architecture that our country can offer.  Interestingly, I took a trip downtown to San Antonio. I have a media business and I asked my team to take some pictures and some video.  The building remained however just to see what used to be a vibrant area, was now a ghost town. There was no one out. I was driving from one hospital to the other and I may have seen eight people out walking. Tourism is huge in our city and just seeing it in that way was a totally foreign thing. It has certainly changed what we see as citizens of the city. From our tourism to our military bases to our sports, you go out and its empty. It has definitely changed our lives as we know it.”

Q: What has changed for you from a day-to-day perspective at your workplace?

“My job as a cardiovascular specialist is to ensure that you maintain your cardiovascular health in a simpler sense. I still get up pretty early, and make a plant-based breakfast, do some yoga and I then commute to work. I go in, I have my mask on, and I usually walk around and greet my nurses. Then I go into my office, close the door and I stay there for about 3-4 hours for my clinic appointments, which used to be a period where my patients tell me about their wins and their challenges. Additionally, we also share pictures, of my kids and their grandkids and we just have a good time. That has now been relegated to 15-20-minute phone calls. It’s definitely a more perfunctory approach. In between those patient visits, my clinic is still doing non-invasive cardiovascular procedures. We are an imaging center, so we are still doing echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds), CT scans and MRI’s. We’re still doing stress-testing, we’re still doing all of those things. The pace of the job hasn’t changed much from that aspect. We’re staying busy, but it has changed. Many of my patients have been my patients for over 10 years, so it is almost like not seeing a family member for me. I look forward to those visits that I have with my patients and I feel like they look forward to them too. At the end of the day, when you have a great patient-physician relationship the practice of medicine, takes care of itself.”

Q: What is the biggest challenge you have faced over the past couple of weeks?

“One of the biggest challenges is the dissemination of prevention information. Secondly, it is the deconstruction of false information. For instance, my patients will here that a study has come out that states they need to do, “X”.  Whether due to fear or trust, many patients will do it.  In this setting, patients are less apt to engage with their physicians to assist them in this decision.  So, now many physicians, including myself,  I find out about major changes to their health much later. Whenever the relational nature of the physician-patient relationship has been destructed, that’s when you start to see lapses in things that we otherwise would be able to take care of without an issue.”

Q: What positives have you seen in your role over the last few weeks?

“Now we have created other pathways to improve and enhance healthcare delivery in multiple markets. In respect of availability and the number of providers we have, it has opened up a whole new realm of healthcare delivery. I am encouraged regarding that development.”

Q: How have you spent time outside of work during this pandemic?
“I have four kids. My son is older, he’s 25, we talk probably every couple of days. I have an older daughter who is finishing up college at Texas Southern University, she was a volleyball player there, she’s here at the house with us. Then I have two younger children, a 12-year old and a 9-year old. I am someone who likes to schedule, so we schedule their day from 10-3, we’re working. We are trying to do instructional block:  a science block, a social studies block, English block and a math block and usually if I am able to get home soon enough, we do enrichment with them in the afternoons. We build in time for exercise and fitness. We go out typically once a week on some sort of enrichment. We have played more board games in the past month than we have played in my daughter’s last nine years of life, but it has been an enjoyable experience to see them grow and see them look forward to the time that we spend together. We use a strategy that is recommended by many healthy youth promotional groups, and that strategy is a number, 9-5-2-1-0. That recommends at least nine hours of sleep, at least five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, no more than two hours of recreational screen time, at least one hour of physical activity (preferably outside) and zero sugar sweetened beverages. We’ve used that to structure and prioritize health and wellness in our home.”

Q: What message do you have for the general public?

“My father used to have a saying growing up, he would say, “Whatever tools you take to build your house, those are the tools that will affect the quality of the build.” Ultimately as healthy as you are going into any situation, is as healthy as you are going to be in those times of turmoil and as problems arise.  Pre or post COVID-19, maintaining health should be a priority. This virus has changed how we focus prevention and health, in knowing that individuals with obesity have a much higher likelihood of having complications from Coronavirus. Individuals who are young and obese, have a higher likelihood of being intubated, meaning they have a tube to assist in breathing if you are affected. It is those patients with pre-existing conditions who typically have a less favorable outcome or a higher likelihood of both acquisition and complication of the virus. So, if I could encourage people to do any one thing, it would be to exercise, eat real food and stay connected with those you love.”

Dr. Batts has included additional information to promote health and wellness, available below:

COVID-19 | Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine | Fitness, Health & Nutrition