4-year-old ‘fighter’ leaves hospital after 9-month battle with COVID-19

4-year-old ‘fighter’ leaves hospital after 9-month battle with COVID-19
Cassandra Yazzie
| ABC News Radio

By NiCOLE PELLETIERE, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A New Mexico mother is speaking out after witnessing her 4-year-old’s ongoing fight with COVID-19.

Cassandra Yazzie of Sandoval County, said her daughter, Stella Martin, was hospitalized for nine months after testing positive on April 24, 2020. As a baby Stella was diagnosed with asthma, which increased her risk for getting sicker from the coronavirus.

Stella spent over five months in the pediatric intensive care unit at University of New Mexico Hospital (UNM) in Albuquerque, before being transferred to UNM’s Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital in October where she remained until January 2021.

“She’s a very, very strong little girl,” Yazzie told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “She’s still fighting and is putting a smile on her face.”

Yazzie, who is also mom to 9-year-old Lilia, said Stella came to her in April complaining of pain in her back.

She was taken to a local hospital then airlifted to UNM, where she was tested or COVID-19 upon entry. A neurological team performed an MRI scan which revealed transverse myelitis or swelling of the spinal cord.

“They said since COVID was an infection, that the good antibodies were attacking her spinal system when fighting off the COVID virus,” Yazzie said. “The next morning, she was positive [for COVID-19].”

Yazzie said Stella’s father had died from complications of COVID-19 on April 18, 2020. She suspects her daughter may have contracted the virus from the innocent exposure.

Due to hospital safety precautions, Yazzie was unable to stay with her child until she herself tested negative for COVID-19.

At UNM, Stella’ lungs began collapsing and she had a fever. She was intubated and placed in a coma for three weeks.

In the meantime, Yazzie would try to video chat if Stella woke up.

“My heart was pounding. I was so scared,” Yazzie said. “I called maybe four or five times a day and the nurses were really good with her. They said she’d wake up and smile and sometimes would wake up scared and was crying.”

On May 4, Yazzie had two negative COVID-19 tests and was able to see Stella who came out of her coma. In May, she received a tracheotomy.

Despite her health struggles, Yazzie said Stella would check in on the well-being of her own doctors and nurses.

“Even if she doesn’t know you, she will tell you she loves you,” Yazzie said.

Stella was released from the hospital on Jan. 26 and UNM medical staff gave her a proper sendoff.

UNM thanked the community for donating iPads so Stella could connect with family.

“We celebrate her recovery and the hard work and dedication of our health care team who work tirelessly to help patients like her,” UNM said in a statement.

Yazzie said Stella will soon begin physical and occupational therapy and is happy to have her home.

“With her dad passing, and my dad’s passing [unrelated to COVID-19], I had no time to break down, and that’s what I did with her and her sister,” Yazzie said. “We’ve been fighting for this and training for her to come home. She loves being in the same bed as me, going in the living room and sitting on the couch. She loves being home.”

Yazzie has built an Instagram page for Stella so the family can keep in communication with the doctors and nurses at UNM.

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