New Mexico baby recovers from COVID-19 after being placed on heart-lung machine

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — One family said they nearly lost their 13-month old baby to COVID-19. Matteo Baca is now the state’s first pediatric COVID-19 patient to be placed on a heart-lung by-pass machine called ECMO.

“All of a sudden there was five doctors in the room and I remember looking at Matteo thinking, ‘is this the last time I’m going to see your eyes open, is this the last time I’m going to hold you?’ said Shannarose Martinez, Matteo’s mother.

Shannarose Martinez said it was early December when she noticed something wasn’t right. Her son had a fever, was coughing constantly and stopped eating, according to UNM Health Sciences. At UNM Hospital, he tested positive for COVID-19.

“We put in a breathing tube, he needed a chest tube as well. We tried to support him with a ventilator and medications for covid as best we could but then it got to the point where it was clear his lungs were too sick to actually use the oxygen we were delivering to him,” said Dr. Alia Broman, UNM Pediatric Critical Care physician.

Alia Broman was one of the doctors caring for him. She said his oxygen levels were dropping– pretty soon they were running out of options.

“ECMO is the last resource you can hang all your hopes on to say ‘this child still has a chance,’” said Senan Hadid, associate professor of Pediatric Critical Care.

ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, is a heart-lung by-pass machine and provides a way to provide oxygen directly into the blood. It’s a high-risk procedure.

Hadid said it had never been used for COVID-pneumonia in a child Matteo’s age.

“It was a minute by minute. It’s not a day by day for this machine,” said Hadid. “Every minute there could be something. The hour could change everything.”

Dr. Broman was pretty honest about the possible outcome.

“It’s risky to go on and there’s no guarantee that he’s going to come off. So yea, it’s scary. I’m getting goosebumps right now, just thinking about it,” said Broman.

Martinez said it was a hard decision for her family – not knowing what would happen.

“I remember standing by his bed that night, the whole night and I remember just holding his hand and just telling him, ‘please Matteo, just fight for me. Just breathe a little bit harder. Just fight for me, please I need you. Just don’t give up on me,’” said Martinez.

He did fight. After ten days on ECMO, he was slowly weaned off.

“It something to celebrate,” said Dr. Broman. “It’s the thing that we keep in the back of our heads to keep us going, some of the tougher times.”

Now Matteo is back, acting a little more like himself, big grin included, according to UNM Health Sciences.

“I’m just so thankful that we were the ones to do it because now he has the possibility of saving another child’s life,” said Martinez.