Saving Sandra

Team approach, advanced technology save nine-year-old

Sandra Madrid and Dr. James Marcin
Pediatric intensivist James Marcin and Sandra take time out for a photograph after a recent follow-up visit.

It was a warm summer evening, and Sandra Madrid had a fever. Her mother, Cindy Chavez, had stayed home from work to care for the then 9-year-old. Cindy thought Sandra was sleeping but found her in her room vomiting. The color had drained from her body, and she turned grayish blue. Her mother dialed 911.

Sandra was taken to the Pediatric Emergency Department at UC Davis Children’s Hospital where she underwent a battery of tests – and chest compression and defibrillation to keep her heart pumping. She eventually was diagnosed with viral myocarditis, an often deadly infection of the heart muscle. Her heart was badly inflamed, couldn’t beat properly and was unable to deliver oxygen to her body.

“When I got to the emergency room, Sandra had already been placed on a ventilator machine, and she was having life-threatening arrythmias,” recalled pediatric critical care medicine physician James Marcin. “If it got any worse, she would die.”

The medical team decided to place the child on an extra-corporeal life support (ECLS) machine, right in the emergency department. An ECLS machine takes blood from the body, oxygenates it, and then returns it to the body. ECLS allows time for a severely diseased heart to heal. UC Davis has the only pediatric and adult ECLS programs in the Sacramento region.

Dr. Andrada"I looked up at 3 a.m., and all of these pediatric specialists from throughout the hospital had arrived to help save this little girl."
— Emily Andrada, pediatric emergency medicine physician

With the machine at her bedside, the race had begun to save Sandra’s life.

“I looked up at 3 a.m., and all of these pediatric specialists from throughout the hospital had arrived to help save this little girl,” said Emily Andrada, a pediatric emergency medicine physician. “I thought to myself, ‘Having access to this tremendous level of support and expertise is the best part of my job.’”

Cindy Chavez said that today her daughter is doing well.

“They said she only had a 30 percent chance of surviving, but I believe in God and don’t care about numbers,” she said.

Cindy would never have guessed that a bout with what seemed to be the flu would result in her daughter spending 27 days fighting for her life in the pediatric intensive-care unit.

But when such unanticipated events occur, residents throughout the region can turn to UC Davis Medical Center’s emergency department and Level 1 trauma center for expert care. Serving 33 Northern California counties and 6 million residents, UC Davis’ emergency department cares for more than 55,000 patients each year, a third of whom are admitted to the hospital.

To ensure that the region’s patients continue to receive the highest quality, state-of-the-art care, like ECLS, UC Davis is completing construction on the new Surgical and Emergency Services Pavilion. The three-story, 470,000-square-foot facility will include a new emergency room, operating rooms, surgical intensive-care unit, an expanded regional burn center and other essential supportive services. The Pavilion will meet a combined need to comply with the state seismic safety standards and to add more space and beds for programs currently in undersized and overcrowded facilities.

With the new facilities and the dedication of these specialty teams, UC Davis will always be there for children like Sandra Madrid.