BOISE, Idaho — Seven-week-old Ostara Clure was one of at least 20 kids hospitalized with COVID-19 in Idaho as of Monday.
The infant from Nampa was fighting for her life at St. Luke's Children's Hospital in Boise, but things took a turn for the worse and she was rushed to Salt Lake City on Wednesday.
She needs extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a treatment giving COVID-19 patients on the brink of death, the best chance of survival.
Ostara suffered a Code Blue and her oxygen tanked Thursday morning. As of Thursday evening, she was stable.
Two days earlier, from their hospital room in St. Luke's Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Ostara's mother Carli Valentine felt exhausted and defeated.
"Right now she's kind of going off the walls and it gets more and more traumatizing," Valentine said over Zoom. "We're just trying to let her get better but things have been going up and down."
She cannot believe her baby girl's life started out this way.
"There's no connecting, there's no enjoyable moments," Valentine said. "[She's] just a small baby and she shows us how hard she's fighting but it's hard to watch and be here every day and see how hard she has to fight."
On Jan. 20, their life spun into chaos. Ostara was diagnosed with both COVID-19 and pneumonia. At six-and-a-half weeks old, she woke up struggling to breathe.
They took her to the doctor, where Ostara was then rushed to the emergency room with a spiking heart rate.
"Trying to get an IV in, trying to get a bunch of blood tests done and all I could do is sit there and cry. I couldn't breathe, I just cried," Valentine said.
Valentine and Ostara's dad Ashton have stayed in the baby's hospital room around the clock for a week, away from their other two little ones.
"Before, I didn't believe in the whole COVID. I didn't do the masks, didn't do anything and now it's affected my daughter, my kids. The other two came up positive. It's affected all of our family around us," Valentine said. "It changes all our beliefs about it and how scary it really is. Because we're now worried about every single person in our family while we're also worried about our daughter who's fighting for her life with it."
Ostara is unable to breathe on her own. Her heart, lungs and hydration levels are so bad she was put on oxygen and IV fluids.
St. Luke's Children's System Medical Director Dr. Kenny Bramwell said Ostara is one of the worst COVID patients they have seen.
Bramwell said her condition deteriorated over the first few days on the pediatric floor, so she was moved to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).
There, he said Ostara continued to get worse despite maximal therapies and different types of ventilators.
That is when her PICU team decided to transfer her to Salt Lake, where she could get on a cardio-pulmonary bypass system called ECMO.
Bramwell said Boise is not a big enough city to have this advanced COVID treatment for kids.
"This is certainly a very heroic measure for a very sick two-month-old child and I'm hopeful that it will be of help," Bramwell added.
In line with national trends, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare data shows more Idaho kids are in the hospital now than at any other time during the pandemic. It is fueled by the Omicron variant surge.
Bramwell said week after week the hospital is seeing infants as young as two weeks old, up to 17-year-olds, severely ill with COVID.
While children make up a small percentage of all COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals nationwide, Bramwell said we cannot just focus on those numbers.
Children can get multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) weeks after infection, suffer from debilitating long-COVID, or spread the virus to vulnerable family members.
Bramwell said the absolute best protection is to get vaccinated - especially because our youngest cannot yet.
"COVID, we feel, at almost all ages is largely preventable with community and families being vaccinated," Bramwell said. "In many cases it's incumbent on parents, siblings and grandparents to do all they can to protect helpless infants."
Unfortunately, it is too late for Ostara.
"It's real, it's life changing," Valentine said. "Definitely be careful; do the hand-washing, wear face masks. Do whatever you need to do to protect yourself."
"I don't think you can choose to not get this anymore. I think you can only choose how ready you are for when it hits you," Bramwell added.
Valentine and her family ask everyone to keep their little girl in their prayers as she continues to fight for her life.
They also started this GoFundMe to help with rent, food and gas while they are in the hospital. Valentine and Ashton cannot work or afford these climbing medical bills.
If Ostara gets out, they will have an extremely long road of recovery ahead.
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