Northeast Georgia Health System held an event in Flowery Branch yesterday to demonstrate its new robotic open-heart surgery, conduct free heart screenings and allow the public to ask questions and learn about heart health.
“I knew that robotics was really going to change our lives [when] I went to a Chinese restaurant in Dawsonville where I live, and a robotic waiter brought me my food and drink,” Cardiovascular Surgeon Dr. Sloan Guy said at Tuesday’s presentation. “Let me tell you, robotics is going to be a huge part of our lives and not just in the operating room.”
Robotics helped Gainesville earn a new title as the home of the least minimally invasive open-heart surgery procedure in the world, according to Dr. Guy who was the first-ever robotic heart surgeon to perform surgeries at NGHS. He joined the Heart Institute in November 2022 in preparation for the hospital’s new patient tower expected to open in 2024.
“One of the many reasons why I came here, besides the fact I really wanted to live on the lake, was that this new patient tower being built, well cardiology and cardiac surgery will be a big part of that,” Dr. Guy said. “[The Heart Institute] will be moving into that new facility and it’s really going to be state-of-the-art.”
The new patient tower was designed to centralize the Institute’s heart and vascular services including diagnostic testing; cardiac catheters; and open-heart surgery, where patients who qualify could undergo either a traditional or minimally invasive open-heart procedure, according to NGHS online.
“In order to do [traditional] open-heart surgery, I have to make an incision big enough to get [my] hands inside a patient,” Dr. Guy said. “But what robotics does is allow you to go through a pencil-sized port with the same degrees of freedom, or range of motion as a human hand.”
Dr. Guy and a couple members of his dedicated cardiac team demonstrated a mitral valve replacement at Tuesday’s event and used the same robotics system doctors use inside the hospital. The patient was a training dummy and the system was operated comparably to a video game, Dr. Guy said.
“I actually taught my son how to perform this procedure when he was around 10 years old,” he said. “It’s much like a video game, the only difference is that instead of being attached to a virtual world, it’s attached to the real world.”
Dr. Guy sat several feet away from his dummy patient during his demonstration, but he sat close enough where he could perform a medical intervention had it been needed. An actual operating room would have been set up with a similar footprint, he said.
Dr. Guy sat shoeless at the surgeon's console with his white sneakers kicked to the side. He used foot pedals to control his surgical instruments and joy-stick-like tools to grasp things like sutures. He peered through a machine, as if he were looking through binoculars, and performed surgery through a magnified screen. His view mirrored onto two other monitors for the surgical team to watch as he worked.
“The view is just exceptional,” Dr. Guy said.
Allen Simmons, a sales representative with Intuitive, the company that manufactured NGHS’ robotics system, was at the demonstration Tuesday. He walked people through the robotics system and allowed them to sit in the surgeon’s seat to try to pick-up rubber bands, pennies and fibers that were invisible to the naked eye.
“When I was training surgeons [to use the robotics] initially, they would be like, ‘Wow, everything looks so big,’ and it is, it’s bigger on the screen,” Simmons said. “It’s good because the better you can see, the better you can operate."
The Institute’s minimally invasive procedure was backed by a 10-year study that showed the same long-term results as traditional open-heart surgery. The main difference among patients was recovery time, as robotics patients would recover in a fraction of the time; however, the overall patient goal was not to qualify for robotics solely based on recovery time, Dr. Guy said.
“The main goal of heart surgery is to get out of heart surgery alive and get your problem fixed,” he said. “If it can be done safely, minimally invasively so you can recover more early, that’s a very valuable goal but it’s not the number one goal.”
To learn more about heart health and NGHS robotics surgery, visit NGHS online.