“Standby saves lives”: UC Davis health doctor’s special pacemaker helps children


DAVIS – Mary McCormick is back on the tennis court, but this time, the 17-year-old has a little help with a tool she didn’t even know she had.

“The first time we did the test, it came from the school lab. They were just testing her heart rate, and her heart rate was twice as high as everyone else’s,” said Mary’s father, Jeff.

That led them to UC Davis Health and Dr. Daniel Cortez.

“It’s basically a pacemaker, the battery, the whole thing without having that long lead or the weakness of the system,” Dr. Cortez said while showing the device to CBS13.

Dr. Cortez is the director of pediatric electrophysiology at UC Davis Health and a leading expert in implanting leadless pacemakers in children. They are smaller and without all the wires in traditional devices.

“With kids moving around, playing a lot, they can easily break the wire within months or sometimes a few years after the pacemaker is implanted,” Dr. Cortez said.

“It’s just a little thing, like, ‘Wow!’

For Meryn, it’s a lifesaver and is helping her live her life as she always has.

“It was very difficult. I played football for 10 years without taking a season off. And all of a sudden I couldn’t do it for a whole year,” Merrin said. “I’m grateful to have a pacemaker, but I can continue to do sports because it’s very important to me to continue playing sports.”

A traditional pacemaker is about the size of a matchbox. This new one can be as small as a pill and has a long battery life of up to 20 years.

Many doctors in Northern California are trained to implant the device through the leg tendon in adults. Cortez was the first physician in Northern California to perform the implant in a vein in the neck. That means a smaller incision and easier recovery.


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