Matteo Baca post recovery
By Rebecca Roybal Jones

Holiday Miracle

New Mexico Baby Recovers from COVID After Being Placed on Heart-Lung Machine

After being diagnosed with COVID-19 and spending more than a month at The University of New Mexico Hospital fighting for his life, little Matteo Baca is back home with his family.

The 13-month-old is the first baby in the state to be placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for COVID. ECMO removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back in the body, giving the heart and lungs a chance to heal.

By Christmas Eve, he was off ECMO and a ventilator.

“He was our little Christmas miracle,” says Shannarose Martinez, Matteo’s mother. “We wouldn’t be where we are without all of the doctors and nurses and, of course, all of the prayers.”

Martinez says the ordeal began in early December with a COVID diagnosis after Matteo had tubes placed in his ears for recurring ear infections.

When he returned home from the procedure, he was fussy, began coughing and then developed a fever. Martinez decided to take him to the UNMH Emergency Department for treatment.

After a couple of trips to the emergency department, he was admitted on Dec. 5.

His fever was constant. He was lethargic, he wasn’t eating or drinking and his coughing was terrible, Martinez says.

“It would take him 45 minutes for him to recover from coughing,” she says.

Martinez couldn’t believe that he’d tested positive for COVID because the family was vaccinated and practiced all the recommended safety measures.

“We wore a mask all the time, we didn’t go to parties,” she says. “I felt so defeated. Why couldn’t I protect him?”

Doctors and nurses told her that no two COVID cases are alike. “It doesn’t discriminate – old, young, COVID just doesn’t care,” Martinez says.

At one point, Martinez, who says she’s immunocompromised, tested positive for COVID, but her symptoms were mild. “It floors me so much that he got so sick,” she says. “He was so healthy.”

Matteo seemed to get sicker and sicker astonishingly fast, she says. While in the hospital a few days later, Matteo seemed to be OK, until he suddenly wasn’t, Martinez says.

“He had a coughing fit, his oxygen kept dropping,” she says. Before she knew it, he was being moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. “Everything escalated so fast,” she says.

Her partner, Raymond Baca, spent as much time at the hospital as he could, but was also caring for their other child, Ehlahm, 7, at home. Martinez says she was feeling so overwhelmed. “He couldn’t come to the hospital and I was crying. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Alia Broman, MD, an assistant professor in the UNM Division of Pediatric Critical Care, met Matteo when she was backing up Gloria Lopez Hernandez, MD, and found that he was sick enough to need a breathing tube and a chest tube.

Matteo’s oxygen saturations were getting worse and the amount of support he was needing to breathe was getting higher and higher. “And at a certain point you consider whether or not he would be a candidate for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation,” Broman says.

It was the weekend, and Broman called in other physicians to conduct the ECMO procedure.


It's really a group effort. Everything that goes into putting a kid on ECMO – it's never something that we decide by ourselves
Alia Broman, MD

“It's really a group effort,” she says. “Everything that goes into putting a kid on ECMO – it's never something that we decide by ourselves. We're always talking with the surgeons about whether or not they think the children would be good candidates and (whether) they've got a chance of survival, because once you're going on ECMO, you have about a 50-50 chance of mortality.

“It's not 100% guaranteed that you're going to be able to survive, first of all, getting put on the machine, and second of all, survive coming off the machine.”

Martinez recalls how difficult it was to watch her baby coughing then falling into sedation as doctors began preparing Matteo for ECMO.

“I don’t think I ever stopped praying when I was there,” she says. She called on family and friends to “beg him to pull through, to be strong.”

Making the decision to have her son be placed on ECMO was difficult, she says, but she also learned that the outcome for him could have been worse if he didn’t have the procedure. As she was signing the paperwork for the ECMO procedure, Matteo’s condition worsened and medical personnel rushed into the room.

“I was yelling and screaming, ‘What’s happening?’ I lost hope,” Martinez says. “I didn’t know if I was losing my baby.”

When Raymond arrived, they prayed the rosary. “It was the longest hour of our lives,” she says.

The ECMO procedure was a success, she says. Matteo’s oxygen saturation was back at 100%, which it hadn’t been for so long. “His little body was hooked up to so many machines,” Martinez says. “I got the hope I needed back.”

While Matteo was on ECMO for nine days, Martinez says she held his little hand and prayed. At one point, he opened his eyes. “God was like, ‘I’m right here working,’” she says.

Taylor Frederick, RN, was with Matteo throughout his stay at UNMH. It doesn’t usually happen that nurses move with patients from one unit to another but in her case, she was needed in different areas. 

“Once he got on ECMO, each day he was getting better and better,” Frederick says. “It’s really rewarding to see a patient like Matteo at his sickest and then see him get off ECMO.”

Broman says that while she was out of town, she called her colleagues to find out how he was doing. When she heard that he was doing so well, she began to cry.

“That is truly a miracle,” Broman says. “It's a Christmas miracle. It's like the best Christmas present ever. And, yeah, this is why we do what we do.”

On Dec. 20, Matteo was taken off ECMO. A few days later, he was gradually weaned from the ventilator, and was completely off of it on Christmas Eve.

“He’s recovered so well,” Martinez says. By the Tuesday after Christmas, he was completely off of supplemental oxygen, she adds.

Martinez expresses gratitude to the hospital staff and to UNM Hospital’s Child Life Center for providing Christmas presents for her children.

Frederick and the staff were so happy to get a visit from Matteo the day he was discharged from the hospital.

“Mom brought him back and we were able to see him,” she says. “It was a really special moment for the PICU and a really positive outcome. He was just the sweetest little boy. We're so happy to see him go home and have his whole life ahead of him.”

A Venmo account, @MatteoStrong, is accepting donations to help the family with medical expenses, Martinez says.

Categories: Community Engagement, COVID-19, Health, News You Can Use, School of Medicine, Top Stories, UNM Hospital