Diving Heart First
Athlete works with Cook Children's Cardiology team to achieve his national championship goals
After waking up in a hospital bed at Cook Children’s Medical Center the day after his fifth open-heart surgery, Garrett Martin wondered if he made the right choice.
“I had my chest bone ripped open. It’s going to hurt,” Martin, 21 years old, said. “For a little while, I wasn’t sure if I had done the right thing. But looking back on it, I’d do it again. It may not have been the smartest choice, but it’s the one I made. It’s the one I’m living with, and I’m happy with it.”
The choice Martin made wasn’t based necessarily on health or even convenience. It was to continue to dive. Since he discovered diving at 6 years old, the sport became Martin’s passion. He won the UIL 6A State Diving Championship as a senior at Midland High, became the first full-time diver in school history at Texas – Permian Basin, and qualified for the NCAA Division II Championship in college. Now he wants to achieve one more thing – a national championship.
And all the while he’s competed at the highest level, he’s also been a heart patient at Cook Children’s. Martin has Shone’s Complex, a rare congenital heart condition that involves multiple valve problems. He received his first heart surgery at only 6 days old.
His doctors have balanced his love for his sport with what’s best for Martin’s health.
Last year, Martin received his latest surgery. Prior to the operation, doctors gave him two options. The smart choice for most people is a mechanical valve, meaning he may never need another surgery again. Once he has that surgery, Martin needs blood-thinning medication for the rest of his life. Running, walking or riding a stationary bike would be OK with that medication. Still, more extreme sports, including diving, could place Martin at a high risk of life-threatening bleeding.
Martin chose the second heart valve replacement option: a prosthetic, or tissue, valve. With the tissue valve, Martin will need another surgery someday, maybe even within the next years. Still, he won’t have to take blood thinners.
Most importantly, for him, at this point in his career, the prosthetic tissue valve allows Martin to continue to dive.
“My parents were in the room with me, and I didn’t even talk it over with them. I was like I know what I’m going to do. I’m signing up for a second (surgery),” Martin said. “So I went and got a prosthetic valve, a tissue valve. As soon as I decided that I said, ‘OK, this is my next to last surgery. Hopefully, I will never be getting another open heart surgery … after the next one.’”
Scott Pilgrim, M.D., a cardiologist and medical director of the Cook Children’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease program, began seeing Martin in 2018. Dr. Pilgrim said he wasn’t surprised by Martin’s decision to go with the tissue valve. Dr. Pilgrim knows that the choices they are making center around Martin’s desire to compete at the highest level.
“We’ve had very long conversations concerning Garret’s heart problem. We’ve had some interesting discussion points about what his long-term plans are with regards to diving,” Dr. Pilgrim said. “It’s my understanding that he’s quite good at what he does, and we didn’t want to remove him from what he loves. And so we are trying to make a decision that’s best for him medically, but also allow him to achieve the goals that he wants to go for in his life. I think that’s where we were in deciding to put in a bio-prosthetic valve or a tissue valve.”
As he arrives at Cook Children’s Mansfield Urgent Care and Pediatric Specialties clinic, Martin is the oldest patient on that particular day. With his scruffy beard and sweat pants, he looks like exactly what he is – a college student. Still, his age doesn’t make him feel any less at home at Cook Children’s.
“When I was a kid, this place made me feel safe, and as an adult, I know that this is the best place I could be for whatever I need,” Martin said. “I love it here. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to stay, but if I have to be at a hospital, this is the only hospital I want to be at.”
Martin appreciates everything done for him at Cook Children’s. As he heads toward the end of his diving career, he has only a few goals left to accomplish. One of those is winning a national championship.
Then he can move on with a new life, making decisions based solely on his health. But don’t expect him to slow down. He’ll only be beginning the next chapter of his life, with a major in mechanical engineering.
“You don’t have to let anybody limit you. The only person that can tell you what you can and can’t do is you.” Martin said. “Granted, if you’ve got a condition, you need to be mindful of that. Make sure you take of yourself. But if you know you can do something, don’t let someone tell you, you can’t.”
That’s good advice that he’s seen first-hand from his medical team at Cook Children’s.
Get to know Scott Pilgrim, M.D.
The brilliant advancements in pediatric medicine and surgery mean that more and more children with congenital heart disease are not only surviving, but growing up to become adults who are leading full lives. Dr. Pilgrim helps them all the way into adulthood. As medical director of the Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD), he leads one of only a few formal programs nationwide to offer inpatient and outpatient care for teen and adult patients with congenital heart disease. If you would like to schedule an appointment, refer a patient or speak to our staff, please call our offices at 682-885-2140.
Dr. Pilgrim was initially drawn to pediatric cardiology at an early age, after his younger sister endured two open heart surgeries for congenital heart disease. As she recovered, his interest in pediatrics and cardiology piqued. Reflecting on that personal experience he says, "You have to listen to what patients are saying and be very observant. You have to pick up on unspoken vibes. You have to watch how a child interacts with their parents and family. This will help greatly with your treatment of them."