Local virus casualty was a beloved cowboy

Ken Machado died March 16 at Paicines ranch

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Ken Machado, a Morgan Hill native who lived in Paicines for about the last 20 years, was the first San Benito County resident to die with the COVID-19 illness, according to his family and friends.

Machado died March 16 at his ranch in Paicines, said his sister, Diane Machado. He had returned home March 2—exactly two weeks before his death—from a month-long trip to Thailand to celebrate his 60th birthday.

Family members were stunned by how quickly Ken Machado’s condition deteriorated after he developed symptoms of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus that has resulted in a pandemic. Machado registered a 102-degree fever on March 14, but told his girlfriend he didn’t want to go to the hospital because, ironically, he didn’t want to catch the virus from any patients, Diane said.

Just over 24 hours later, Machado was so sick he had to call for emergency transportation to the hospital. However, paramedics couldn’t make it to his remotely located Paicines ranch in time, and Machado died at home.

Diane Machado was careful to emphasize that county health officers who have spoken with the family said that while Ken Machado tested positive for COVID-19 after his death, that does not mean the virus itself took his life. Ken Machado had a number of existing conditions, including Lyme disease—which he contracted about 20 years ago—and heart disease.

His sister and other family members think these underlying conditions were exacerbated by the COVID-19 illness.

The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner’s Office, which contracts with San Benito County for services, said Ken Machado’s cause and manner of death are “pending.”

Machado’s sister described “Kenny” as a gregarious, friendly cowboy who knew people all over the world. A former rodeo and bull riding competitor who lived the ranch life since he was born, Machado retired about 20 years ago from a career as a heavy equipment operating engineer.

“He could literally walk into a room with nobody he knew and make friends with everybody,” Diane Machado said. “He traveled around the world and met people because he was so outgoing. He was the best story teller you’ve ever talked to. He was a really happy person. He made everybody feel comfortable.”

The Machado family grew up in the Uvas Canyon area east of Morgan Hill, Diane explained. Ken and his four siblings—two sisters and two brothers—attended Live Oak High School. Their parents are Hank and Eydie Machado, who now live in a senior living community in San Jose.

Diane Machado described her brother as an “absolutely iconic cowboy from Morgan Hill.” As a former rodeo competitor, Machado met and maintained friendships with some of the industry’s biggest names. He also became friends with stars in the entertainment industry over the years, and even acted in the film “Rebel on the Highway.”

In recent years, Machado and his girlfriend raised horses on their ranch in Paicines.

Ken Machado was also a longtime member of the Hash House Harriers, a sprawling international organization of non-competitive running social clubs, Diane said.

For about the last 15 years, Ken Machado had vacationed in Thailand frequently, often visiting the country for one to two months at a time. During those years, Machado made many friends in Thailand, Diane said. One year, he was a judge of the Miss Philippines beauty pageant.

Machado was known for his big heart as well. On previous trips to Thailand, Machado gave his time for fundraisers and lent his skills as a heavy equipment operator to help the locals move families of elephants to higher ground before the season’s rains overwhelmed the floodplains.

He began planning his most recent visit to Thailand several months earlier and had invited a number of his friends from far and wide. Thus, he was reluctant to cancel the trip, which occurred as the novel coronavirus was spreading worldwide.

He “knew the risks” of going to Thailand at the time, but Machado believed in “seizing the moment” any time an exciting or enriching opportunity arises, his sister said. “I think Kenny’s biggest fear was living in fear,” said Diane Machado, who last saw her brother in December.

After his return to San Benito County on March 2, Diane Machado said her brother didn’t visit with many local friends or family members. A few days before he became sick, he had an appointment with his doctor for an unrelated skin injury he suffered in Thailand, but he was not experiencing any virus symptoms at that time.

Although Ken Machado suffered from a number of health conditions and setbacks over the years, he was resilient, Diane said. He underwent two major heart surgeries and retired early due to Lyme disease. He had been in numerous significant car accidents, and was even hit by a vehicle in one incident.

“We always used to say he was like a cat, because he had nine lives,” Diane said.

Compounding the Machado family’s grief is the fact the four remaining siblings can’t visit their parents, as their senior living center is closed to visitors due to stay-at-home orders in the region, Diane said. “I have been trying to console my mom and dad, but I can’t do that properly without being able to be physically present,” Diane Machado wrote on Facebook.

Ken Machado is the first and only San Benito County resident who has died with a confirmed case of COVID-19. A total of six county residents have tested positive for the illness, according to local health officials.

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