Pioneer, Inventor and Inspiration: Meet Dr. “Mac” Sims
Dr. Hewatt McGraw “Mac” Sims is a pioneer of the orthopedic world, specializing in spinal surgery. He has changed the game in medicine by being an inventor, educator and teacher. His invention, The Syzygy Stabilization, has helped many battling with spondylolisthesis, a disease that causes one of the lower vertebrae to slip forward onto the bone directly beneath it.
Dr. Sims began his interest in orthopedic surgery years ago as an athlete in Tifton, Georgia. In high school, he played a number of sports, including football, basketball and tennis, which led to his interests in exercise, weightlifting and, eventually, science. From there, Dr. Sims went on to college for three years at Valdosta State College, finishing with one year at The University of California in Santa Barbara. After that, he attended medical school at Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, then obtained a speciality in orthopedics by attending The Medical College of Georgia’s orthopedic surgery program for five years. Once his five years were complete, Dr. Sims relocated to Denver, Colorado, where he received a spine surgery fellowship at The Center for Spinal Disorder.
“I had a professor at The Medical College of Georgia during my orthopedic residency named Dr. Allan Goodrich, and he was an incredible, patient professor and attending spine surgeon,” said Dr Sims. “Through his tutelage — also the intensity in the focus that was required as well as the anatomy of the spine — I gained an intense interest in spine surgery.”
Currently, Dr. Sims is practicing back in his hometown of Tifton, where he operates and has clinics. He has locations in Douglas and Valdosta and operates at Coffee Regional Medical Center and Tift Regional Medical Center. As if that weren’t enough, Dr. Sims’ special device, The Syzygy Stabilization, has kept him busy traveling since its invention in 2013.
The word “syzygy” can be synonymous to having perfect alignment. The production of the device was created with the help of a company located in Atlanta. Dr. Sims and his collaborative team developed a remarkable device that controls reduction of spondylolisthesis — which the doctor described as “the abnormal slippage of two vertebral bodies in the lumbar spine.” The disease can cause a patient to have severe back and leg pain, but fortunately, The Syzygy Stabilization has made realigning the bones of the lumbar vertebral body much simpler. For the last six years, Dr. Sims has traveled extensively, introducing his device and encouraging other doctors to use it.
The procedure is done by reducing the three lumbar vertebral bones into the proper alignment and taking the pressure off of those nerves, releasing any pain from the back and leg(s).
“Like any surgeon would, we noted ways during surgery that certain maneuvers and things we had to accomplish during the surgery could have been done easier,” he said, regarding what prompted the device’s invention.
“Through seeing these surgeries for years and years, a lightbulb went off, and I decided that there was an easier way to accomplish what we were trying to do and also a way to accomplish it better.”
Who is at more risk to suffer from spondylolisthesis or other spinal problems? According to Dr. Sims, people who are more at risk include individuals who smoke, who have diabetes or vascular disorders or who are obese.
When Dr. Sims is not busy operating, he also enjoys speaking and teaching other spinal surgeons, nurses and soon-to-be medical professionals about the anatomy and the basic concepts surrounding spinal surgery. Since 2002, he’s traveled to numerous countries, such as Canada, Switzerland and Brazil, as well as around the United States.
“It brings great joy to me to be able to meet people … learn about and understand the spine, the pathology of the spine and how we go about treating the various diagnoses and disorders,” said Dr. Sims. “It’s been a great part of my career to be able to share my knowledge and experience that I’ve accumulated over the last 17 years of practice.”
It’s no question Dr. Sims’ numerous experiences have made him the doctor he is today. During his early years of practicing, he trained in Santiago, Chile and Nottingham, England. In England, he studied different kinds of medical philosophies, and in Chile, he worked at the Soltero Hospital, serving financially underprivileged patients.
“There was one point where I was doing a posterior neck surgery at Soltero Hospital, and our only air supply was an open window,” he shared. “We were placing screws in the back of this patient’s neck with a Black + Decker drill! When I finished the surgery, I remember walking out, and my entire clothing and everything else was drenched with sweat, as if I had just jumped out of a pond.”
During his leisure time, Dr. Sims enjoys bicycling, motorcycle riding and planting trees. However, he clearly loves and enjoys his work, and his advice to future medical professionals reflects that.
“I think one of the most important things is to enjoy what you do. Choose your interest and capitalize on what interests you. That is what’s going to make you happy over time,” he said.
Written by: Tyrah Walker
Photography by: Brandon Pham