Lifesaving find highlights importance of preventive care for one Essentia Health patient

July 18, 2023  By: Caitlin Pallai

two guys smiling in a baseball field

Long-time Fargo resident and devoted Fargo Moorhead RedHawks fan, Morgan Almer, visited the Essentia Health-Moorhead Clinic in March for his annual physical.

At 45 years old, Almer was considered healthy for his age. But at his wife’s urging, he decided to complete an additional test – a cardiac calcium score test – a few days later. The test is a computed tomography (CT) scan that looks at how much calcium is in your coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart.

“My father passed away at the age of 63 due to a heart attack, and I was with him,” explained Almer. “So heart stuff has been prevalent in our family.”

family standing in baseball fieldConsequently, he expected his score to be on the higher side, but nothing could prepare him, or his primary care provider Dr. Taylor Mertz, for the results.

“If you’re over 400, you’re considered high risk,” said Almer. “My number was 1,815. Dr. Mertz said it was the highest he’s ever seen.”

Almer was immediately referred to cardiology at Essentia Health-Fargo for an angiogram, a diagnostic procedure that uses X-ray images to look for blockages in the heart’s blood vessels.

Cardiologist Dr. Alok Saurav quickly identified three significant blockages: one at 100%, another at 80% and a third at 55%.

“I’m no medical expert, but the heart must be an amazing muscle because it still managed to push the blood through,” explained Almer in reference to the full blockage. “My heart created its own pathway and that’s what was keeping me alive.”

Almer says he had no physical symptoms to alert him that something was wrong. Everything felt normal.

Almer was scheduled for triple bypass surgery with cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Charles Canver. Triple bypass surgery reroutes blood around three blocked areas in your coronary arteries. Dr. Canver moved blood vessels from other parts of Almer’s body to his heart to restore normal blood flow.

Almer stayed in the hospital for five days, followed by cardiac rehab three times a week for four weeks.

Reflecting on this time, Almer expresses his gratitude for everyone who cared for him.

“Some of the people you’ll never forget,” he said. “Dr. Canver held my heart in his hands, and when you think about that it’s mind blowing.

“From the procedure to when you wake up in the ICU, every nurse was top notch. Even the anesthesiologist, Dr. Jeffrey Ottmar, understood how nervous I was before surgery. Now thinking back on it, when we were joking back and forth about my going to NDSU and him to UND, he was doing it to keep my mind off things. And it worked.”

Almer continues to navigate the recommendations of his cardiac rehab team, which includes a change in diet, increased exercise and medication. He regularly visits his cardiac team and is scheduled for his next echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart, in September.

Doctor and Guy standing together"Not everybody gets a second chance,” admits Almer. “I feel very fortunate from one end to the other, because without going for an annual physical I never would have got the test ordered, and one step led to the other (which) led to the other. I could be dead if I didn’t.”

Essentia Health-Fargo is North Dakota’s only accredited Chest Pain Center with Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) and Resuscitation. This is the American College of Cardiology’s (ACC) highest level of accreditation for chest pain centers. Essentia Health-Fargo has also been honored with the ACC’s Platinum Award for our heart attack care. This is one of the highest cardiac honors a health care system can achieve, recognizing positive patient outcomes, performance and quality of care.

Essentia Health is proud to partner with the American Heart Association for its annual Fargo Heart Walk on Thursday, July 20. Both Almer and Dr. Canver will present at the event, which is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at Urban Plains Park, Shelter B, located at 3020 51st Street South in Fargo.

The importance of preventive care

Preventive care helps detect or avert serious diseases and medical problems before they worsen. At Essentia Health, we provide care for every age and every need, and a primary care provider (PCP) is a key component of preventive care.

Essentia features numerous providers throughout its service area; several are actively welcoming new patients. To find a caring and compassionate PCP to help you on your health care journey, visit

Essentia patients may be able to see their PCP virtually or in-person, depending on their needs. To schedule an in-person visit, call (844) 663-1068. To schedule a virtual appointment, call (844) 663-1068 or log in to the MyChart app or webpage.

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