Mateo Caldera spent the first five months of his life in an incubator at Crouse Hospital. As he fought daily in the hospital’s NICU, a pandemic rocked the world around him.
The airborne virus kept even his parents from visiting for weeks at a time. They would watch him for hours from home on Zoom calls with help from nurses.
On May 22, after 132 days in the NICU, Sarah and Matt Caldera took baby Mateo home for the first time.
“We prayed for it, but it definitely didn’t seem like something we could grab,” Sarah said. “It didn’t seem like it was something within reach, I guess. Every day was a roller coaster.
“And it just feels good to be at this point where the girls are playing with him and he’s laughing and smiling all the time, and he doesn’t have to have cords attached to him.”
The Calderas endured the kind of grueling year many of us will never have to face. Tonight, the they’ll have Thanksgiving dinner together, as a family, with lots to be thankful for.
“We definitely have taken away that we are incredibly blessed,” Sarah said. “Our community is amazing and perfect strangers have helped us through everything.”
Sarah Caldera gave birth to Mateo on Jan. 11 at her home in Baldwinsville. The baby came 15 weeks early and weighed 1lb. 7oz.
Sarah and her husband, Matt, spent the next two months at Mateo’s side in the neonatal intensive care unit at Crouse Hospital.
Then a pandemic swept through Onondaga County.
As Covid-19 cases soared in March, hospitals began shutting down access to visitors. The Calderas could still see Mateo but wrestled with whether they should. He was an at-risk infant in a ward filled with other at-risk infants. They couldn’t bear the thought they might carry the virus into the NICU from the outside world.
So they made what Sarah called the hardest decision of their lives: They stopped visiting the hospital.
For nearly four weeks they watched Mateo daily through the screens of their phones. Nurses had set up Zoom calls and would leave a phone on top of Mateo’s incubator so his parents could see him.
By the time he was six months old, Mateo had endured three surgeries: One for his heart, laser eye surgery in both eyes and a hernia surgery.
He came home in May and spent another two months on oxygen.
While Mateo was in the NICU, family and friends brought meals or groceries. Complete strangers sent care packages, warm wishes and prayers from across the country.
“We’ve had people drop things off at our doorstep. People we still haven’t met across the country praying for our whole family, delivering groceries … ,” Sarah said.
Among those helping the Calderas was Lorie Schneider, the mother of Cpl. Kyle Schneider, a Marine killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2011. She met the Calderas at an event for military families a few years ago while Matt Caldera was deployed overseas — one of his five tours of duty with the Army.
Schneider became a fixture of their home, Sarah said, bringing meals or just coming to talk or pray.
Several close family members have been able to meet the newborn. But it’s from a distance, outdoors, wearing masks.
Still, just to be home, with Mateo, feels like a miracle for the Calderas.
Mateo is outperforming even some of his doctors’ expectations. He’s up to more than 11 pounds. He’s crawling. He can pull himself up and stand. And he recently said his first word: “mama.”
“He’s amazing. Even his pulmonologist took him off oxygen way before he thought he was going to be off oxygen,” Sarah said. “They all call him a rock star.”
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