During the summer of 2017, life began to rapidly change for 80-year old Yong Xui Li. She had become so weak that she couldn’t stand long enough to brush her teeth. She spent most of her days in bed trying to rest, though an irregular and sometimes rapid heart rate made it hard to sleep. Yong’s heart rate was of great concern, prompting numerous trips to the emergency room. During a visit to the emergency room, Yong was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a condition that occurs when your heart’s two upper chambers aren’t in sync and beat irregularly. The chambers also don’t empty completely and can leave behind tiny blood clots that can break free, travel through the bloodstream and potentially cause a stroke.

Yong’s symptoms of weakness, shortness of breath and fatigue were classic signs of AFib. Not only were the symptoms getting in the way of the life she wanted to enjoy with her family, the risks of stroke or other heart-related complications were high.

Yong is very close with her daughter, Catherine. Together, they decided to seek help.

Initially, Yong was put on a regular course of medications, unfortunately resulting in little improvement in her condition. That’s when Yong was promptly referred to Paul Drury, M.D., an electrophysiologist at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center.

It was time for another change in Yong’s life—but this time, it would be a very small one—a pacemaker. But not just any pacemaker—the world’s smallest.

“Millions of people are affected by atrial fibrillation every year,” says Dr. Drury. “You can sometimes treat the condition with medication, however in Yong’s case, a pacemaker was needed and could be inserted using a minimally invasive approach.

How small is small?

In early 2017, the FDA approved use of the Medtronic Micra™, the smallest pacemaker invented. Weighing in at just 1.75 grams, it is an astounding 93 percent smaller than a conventional pacemaker and has a 99 percent success rate in global patient trials.1 Prior to the Micra, insertion of a common pacemaker, about 13 cubic centimeters, meant a larger chest incision and a night in the hospital, not to mention a month of recovery.

Yong, a person small in stature, benefited from this small device. Dr. Drury used a small incision in her groin to insert the pacemaker, which is about half the size of a AAA battery and lighter than the weight of two dimes.

Back in rhythm

The procedure lasted just over an hour, and Yong was home the same day. She was instructed to take it easy for about five days with no heavy lifting.

Catherine was relieved to see that her mom recovered so quickly, and all symptoms were gone just two weeks after the procedure.

“The hospital staff was so great, their kindness spoke to my mom,” Catherine says. “My mom and I hope that others can benefit from this technology. It changes lives. It has certainly changed our family’s lives in all the best ways.”

To learn more about Heart and Vascular Care at Saddleback Medical Center, or to find a specialist, please visit our section on Heart and Vascular Care.