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What NGHS’ first robotic heart surgery patient had to say about experience
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Bill Mayfield and son Chad visit Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, at a Dawsonville hotel while visiting North Georgia. Mayfield was the first patient at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center to have robotic heart surgery. - photo by Scott Rogers

In the lobby of the Dawsonville hotel, Bill Mayfield gave an emotional hug to his son, saying “He’s my lifesaver.”

Such words probably were never truer for the Minnesota man, as he relayed a story of going from healthy specimen to barely breathing while hiking Tallulah Gorge in the North Georgia mountains in January with son Chad.

Mayfield would go on to seek medical help at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville, and that would lead to him undergoing Northeast Georgia Health System’s first robotic heart surgery on Feb. 7.

“I’m a new man since (surgery) happened. There’s no doubt about that,” he said in an interview Tuesday, Feb. 14, at Holiday Inn Express & Suites, where he stayed before leaving for home the next day.

“The surgery went so well that Bill was able to leave the hospital just two days after the surgery,” said Dr. T. Sloane Guy, a robotic heart surgeon and the director of Minimally Invasive and Robotic Heart Surgery at Northeast Georgia Physicians Group.

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Dr. T. Sloane Guy, left, the Northeast Georgia Medical Center heart surgeon who performed NGHS' first robotic heart procedure, and the patient, Bill Mayfield. (Photo provided by NGHS)

Georgia Heart Institute’s surgeons at NGPG Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery are now offering minimally invasive, robotic heart surgery, giving patients in the area more access to the much-needed, groundbreaking procedures.

Robotic heart surgery has several benefits, including tiny incisions and faster recovery times, the hospital says.

“What really matters is the outcome of the operation and how quickly (patients) recover, and those things are generally excellent,” said Guy, who served two tours in Afghanistan as an Army chief surgeon and joined the hospital in January as its first robotic heart surgeon, 

He has a website,, that gives thorough information about the procedure.

As for what patients are good candidates, “my decision-making is based on the same priorities that yours likely are or should be,” Guy says on the site.

Top of his list is whether the patient can “survive the procedure with the least chance of major complications.”

Dr. Clifton Hastings, medical director of NGPG Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery, said, “Whether the surgery is done using a minimally invasive approach or an open approach, our primary goal is providing the best possible treatment plan and outcome for each individual patient. 

“We’re collaborating with the cardiologists of Georgia Heart Institute to coordinate care across specialties, providing patients a more seamless patient experience.”

Mayfield’s ordeal began simply enough — traveling to Georgia with wife Karen to visit his son. Knowing that Chad enjoys hiking, he decided to prepare for the trip.

“I was running on the treadmill,” said the 64-year-old. “I ran for a mile at 5 mph and thought, ‘Man, I'm in good shape. I’m ready for this.’”

Mayfield said he hiked OK the first day, but on the second day, he was out of breath struggling to keep up. “I could go about 100 yards and that was all she wrote,” he said.

He used an inhaler to try to fix the problem, thinking the “air was different here or something.”

That didn’t take, so Mayfield went to an urgent care center in Dahlonega, where a staff worker detected a heart murmur. “Do you want to take an ambulance to Gainesville or do you want to drive?” she asked.

His son drove him to Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s emergency room. He was then admitted for tests, which revealed he had a faulty heart valve.

“In turn, it was filling my lungs with fluid,” Mayfield said. “I literally felt like someone was sitting on my chest. I couldn’t breathe and my chest hurt so ridiculously bad. I don’t go to the doctor for anything … but I have to be honest, I thought by morning I would be dead.”

Guy ended up telling Mayfield he needed heart surgery to fix the problem and that he was an excellent candidate for less invasive robotic surgery.

Mayfield returned home with the surgery scheduled, he said.

In the meantime, he did a little research.

“I read that Dr. Guy was one of the best robotic heart surgeons in the country,” Mayfield said.

“It made the most sense for us to make the trip back down from Minnesota, and it was definitely worth it.”

The surgery, lasting about a couple of hours, went well.

“Just two days after the surgery, I was leaving the hospital and feeling great,” Mayfield said. “I can’t believe what the team was able to do through these tiny incisions. I remember when my brother had open-heart surgery, and this is a totally different experience.”

At Tuesday’s interview, he said he felt fine. Mayfield said Guy told him he could go back to work in two weeks. “I’m just too nervous about that,” he said, adding that four weeks may be more realistic.

Guy is just glad Mayfield sought treatment.

If he hadn’t, “I think it’s very likely in his case that he would have been readmitted for heart failure,” the doctor said.

As for Mayfield, he’s looking to the future.

He’s retiring March 15 from a company he’s been at for 41 years, and he turns 65 on March 3, a day he’ll especially appreciate this year.

“Life, in itself, is a birthday present,” Mayfield said.

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While visiting North Georgia, Bill Mayfield had a health scare that caused the Minnesota resident to be the first patient at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center to have robotic heart surgery. - photo by Scott Rogers