Texas 11-month-old improving after airlift from Houston area due to hospital bed shortage

State & Regional

Editor’s Note: The hospital sent KXAN a corrected last name for Ava, which is now reflected in the text below.

HOUSTON/TEMPLE, Texas (KXAN) — COVID-19 cases among young children are almost doubling in some parts of Central Texas — some pediatricians say their hospitals are near or at capacity.

Eleven-month-old Ava Amira Rivera was airlifted to a hospital about 170 miles away, because there wasn’t enough space in the Houston area to treat her for her infection.

Ava Amira Rivera (Courtesy BS&W)
Ava Amira Rivera (Courtesy BS&W)

After her diagnosis, she was flown Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s Medical Center in Temple — because there were no available beds at area pediatric hospitals.

“Ava’s story was certainly scary for her parents. She arrived at a hospital in Houston, where — because of her condition — they needed to put her on a breathing machine. They reached out to several pediatric hospitals because at that point she needed pediatric ICU care,” said Dr. Dominic Lucia, Chief Medical Officer at BS&W McLane Children’s Medical Center-Temple. “The Houston healthcare system of all varieties seems to be at capacity right now, as we are too.”

Dr. Lucia is helping a team treat Ava. He says hospital capacity is a concern statewide as they see more respiratory illnesses, like RSV, among children.

“…and you add COVID to that mix, and the typical summer traumatic injuries that kids experience when they are out and about, we are seeing all children’s hospitals across the state near or at capacity, including ourselves,” Dr. Lucia said.

Community pediatrician Dr. Sunaina Suhag is seeing more patients at Austin Regional Clinic. For kids under 12, she says symptoms could vary.

 Ava Amira Rivera (Courtesy BS&W McLane Children’s Medical Center)
Ava Amira Rivera (Courtesy BS&W McLane Children’s Medical Center)

“I’m still seeing milder cough congestion symptoms, watery eyes, scratchy throat, that kind of thing, but there are always cases that can fall into that 2% that tend to be more significant,” said Dr. Suhag.

Travis County is seeing an uptick in cases among children under 10. Data from Austin Public Health shows last Friday there were 35 new cases in that age group. This past Thursday, that number almost doubled (view clickable chart below).

Fortunately, data from APH shows fewer children and adolescents have been hospitalized during the pandemic than adults.

Ava Amira Rivera (Courtesy of BS&W Children’s Medical Center)
Ava Amira Rivera (Courtesy of BS&W Children’s Medical Center)

“So we know more kids are getting COVID-19 because it’s twice as contagious with the new delta variant,” said Dr. Suhag. “In terms of the severity of disease, the portion of those kids who are getting severely ill is still the same, but that number is higher, because more kids are sick.”

That’s why this fall will look a lot different for area parents Erin Hazel and her 21-month-old son.

“We decided not to put him in daycare because of the delta variant,” Hazel said. “We’re pretty much going back to previous pandemic precautions.”

Doctors stress COVID-19 protocols are still important for families with unvaccinated children, especially ahead of school. KXAN also checked in with Dell Children’s Medical Center to see how many COVID pediatric cases they have and how many beds are available. We’ll update this story when we hear back.

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