Football fireball is back in the game

UC Davis’ new arrhythmia technology heals young hearts with minimal downtime

The newest cardiovascular services facilities at UC Davis include computer-controlled, magnetically-driven catheter technology, bringing greater safety and precision to the diagnosis and treatment of irregular heartbeats. Click on the arrows to see more photos.

Posted Jan. 11, 2012

When friends describe 14-year-old Jordan Marshall, one word almost certainly leaves their lips: football. The high school freshman, who lives in Sacramento, is drawn to the game the same way that his more sedentary peers are drawn to YouTube or “Angry Birds.” Whether he’s playing tight end, running back or safety, football is a fixation that stokes his soul.

But a shocking incident in August 2010 meant that Jordan had to rethink his goal of playing college football. His mother, Kim Marshall, knew something was dreadfully wrong when she noticed a thicket of parents and players on the sidelines as she was making her way to her son’s game, minutes after it had started.

“Someone said, ‘Who’s here for Jordan?’ and I saw my son sitting with his face in his hands complaining that he couldn’t breathe. His heart was beating so fast, you could see the palpitations in his chest,” she recalled.

Putting football on hold

Marshall, who works as a medical claims analyst, shook off the terror that she realized could immobilize her and morphed into what she calls “capable mom mode.” Someone suggested calling 9-1-1, but she knew it would be quicker to take him herself to the hospital, a five-minute drive away.

At the ER, Marshall felt like a character in a TV hospital drama. Doctors and nurses surrounded them, gloved hands touched and probed, an IV was hooked up and monitors beeped. Jordan’s heartbeat remained high, until a heart-slowing medication entered his system via his IV. Almost immediately his heartbeat plunged from 210 beats per minute to a healthy 89.

Dr. Park © UC Regents“It can be unsettling for parents to see their children running around so soon, but this is a relatively safe procedure with a low risk for complications.”
—  Jeanny Park

Jordan was discharged and, after an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist and a few more tests, it was confirmed that he had a condition known as arrhythmia, which can cause his heart to beat too fast. Untreated, arrhythmia can be life-threatening. Football, Jordan was told, had to be put on hold.

Two weeks later, Jordan was referred to UC Davis Medical Center, where he met Jeanny Park, a pediatric cardiologist who specializes in diagnosing and treating irregular heartbeats. Park cleared Jordan to play football after prescribing a beta blocker, which relaxes blood vessels and slows heart rate to improve blood flow.

The latest technology for treating arrhythmia

Leaders in heart and vascular care

Cardiovascular services at UC Davis unites specialists and subspecialists who are passionate about providing the highest level of cardiac and blood vessel care. In addition to being compassionate clinicians, they are national leaders in developing and testing the next generation of cardiac and vascular therapies, technologies and surgical techniques, and then delivering them to patients worldwide. For more information, visit

Park also had a suggestion. UC Davis had recently installed a system called Stereotaxis that helps identify and resolve problems with electrical pathways in the heart. After inserting ultra-thin catheters into blood vessels in the groin, physicians use a computer system to navigate the catheters to the heart. Small cameras then project images of the heart’s delicate architecture on a large-scale monitor, allowing easier visualization of the sources of arrhythmia. Stereotaxis is more precise and, because the catheters are magnet driven, involves less X-ray exposure than traditional systems.

Jordan, Park said, could be a good candidate for the procedure.

“Beta blockers work well for most adults but are not ideal for adolescents,” said Park. “Young people do not like to take pills every day for the rest of their lives, and some patients unintentionally skip a dose. Side effects can include tiredness and depression. In patients like Jordan, they can take the edge off their competitiveness, which is not desirable for a football player.”

Jordan and his mother agreed to the procedure at UC Davis, the only medical center in California currently using this technology for pediatric arrhythmia patients. During Jordan’s procedure, Park was able to identify the specific area of abnormal electrical activity in Jordan’s heart – a “Eureka” moment.

“It was located along a portion of one of the heart valves that can be very difficult to map and that would have been extremely challenging to find and fix without this technology,” said Park.

Jordon Marshall during a football game © UC Regents
Teenager Jordan Marshall is back on the football field after specialized treatment at UC Davis Medical Center for an irregular heart beat.

Using radiofrequency energy, she eliminated the tissue causing the faulty electrical pathway.

“Jordan had the procedure on a Wednesday morning,” said Marshall, who is also the mother of 9-year-old Jayden. “He was discharged on Thursday, and on Saturday he was playing football again.”

Park was at medical school when children with Jordan’s diagnosis sometimes had to undergo open-heart surgery. She has since witnessed the metamorphosis to a host of less-invasive interventions that have greatly expanded treatment options for cardiac patients. She was not surprised that Jordan was back on the football field so quickly.

“It can be unsettling for parents to see their children running around so soon, but this is a relatively safe procedure with a low risk for complications,” she said.

As for Jordan, his focus is not on his heart but on his game.

“When I learned I might not ever play football again, I was mad and scared,” he said. “There is no other activity that is more meaningful to me. Football is me and it cannot be replaced.”