Infant Survives Pertussis After Four Organs Fail
When a child is born parents experience a combination of joy, relief, hope and even a healthy dose of worry. Every parent wants to keep their precious children safe, and thanks to the availability of vaccines, parents can now prevent as many as 14 different diseases by the time their children are two years old. However, it’s important to realize that until a child is fully immunized, they remain at risk of contracting these dangerous diseases and therefore must rely on protection from their families and community members.
Kate and Ellie are twin girls who were born healthy and happy on January 5, 2012. As recommended, they received their DTaP vaccine at two months of age. This vaccine was the first of five doses they would need in order for their bodies to build immunity to diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (also known as whooping cough). Before completing the full vaccination series, children like Kate and Ellie remain susceptible to dangerous diseases like pertussis. And unfortunately, when the girls were just 14 weeks old, their family realized just how important disease prevention is and just how life-threatening pertussis infection can be.
Ellie’s battle with pertussis began in April 2012 with what was described as a cough. When the pediatrician realized that her lung capacity was down to 82% of normal, she was quickly admitted to the local hospital and put on oxygen. Then, as her mother explains “things spiraled downhill pretty fast”. They suspected Ellie may have pertussis and while they she was awaiting an ambulance transport to Boston Children’s Hospital, doctors had to swarm the room and intubate her.
Ellie’s mother describes the ordeal in excruciating detail on the Shot By Shot website:
“…the doctors told us Ellie’s lungs were failing fast, her heart rate was dangerously high, and the fluids that she was getting through her IV weren’t getting to her organs. Whatever was attacking Ellie made every cell in her body “leaky.” They moved Ellie to the ICU.”
By Sunday evening the medical team told us that Ellie was in complete respiratory failure and our last chance of survival was to try a heart lung bypass machine called ECMO. Ellie’s lungs were bypassed, but as the hours passed, Ellie’s blood flow turned to sludge. Her kidney and liver function had virtually stopped.
At 4:30am Tuesday morning, the doctors explained that they now also needed to bypass Ellie’s heart. And to do this, they had to briefly take her off the ECMO machine even though her lungs were completely failed. I kept wondering how much more her little body could take. I kissed her before the procedure. Her skin was stretched taut from being so swollen. Her body was the size of a two year old. I thought I was saying goodbye. “
Despite the fact that four of her organs had failed, Ellie miraculously survived the procedure. The following day doctors performed a full body exchange of Ellie’s blood to reduce her colossal amount of white blood cells and eventually her kidneys and liver began working. Then, after 25 long days on the ECMO, Ellie’s lung function had finally improved enough to move her to a regular ventilator. Ellie’s struggles were not over and she continued to progress through weeks of rehab and months of physical and occupational therapy.
Ellie’s story reminds us that no parent can ever predict what diseases their children may fall victim to and how their bodies may respond. Pertussis is a serious, life threatening disease for an infant and although Kate never contracted pertussis, and her sister Ellie was fortunate enough to overcome it, many other children have lost their battles. Sadly, in 2012 there were 41,880 confirmed cases of pertussis in this country which resulted in 15 infant deaths. For every child that died, there were hundreds of others who suffered like Ellie.
As Ellie’s mother explains,
There were so many days at Ellie’s bedside feeling completely useless. I worried that my baby could die at any moment, and wondered what her quality of life would be like if she survived this horrible ordeal. I remember telling another mom whose child was in the ICU that my daughter was on life support because of Pertussis.
She said, “Pertussis? Who gets Pertussis nowadays?”
The truth is that just about anybody can get pertussis these days. As parents, we vaccinate our children so that we can significantly improve their chances of avoiding this dangerous disease. There’s even a study which concluded that an unvaccinated child is 23 times more likely to suffer with pertussis than a child who has been vaccinated. So who wouldn’t want to increase their child’s odds of avoiding the life-threatening ordeal Ellie experienced.
Since studies show that 80% of infants who contract pertussis are getting infected from someone in their family, it’s important that parents, grandparents, siblings, and all relatives and caregivers receive a Tdap booster vaccine. And, to reduce the risk of pertussis in new mothers and their very young infants, the CDC now recommends that pregnant women receive Tdap vaccine during each pregnancy. As Ellie’s mother explains,
“Before living through this, I would honestly never have believed how bad pertussis can be. …Pertussis changed Ellie’s life and our lives forever. If there is anyone reading this now that might doubt the importance of vaccinations for infants and adults, hopefully my story will change your mind.”
Please share Ellie’s story to help educate people about the dangers of pertussis and the importance of infant DTap vaccine and adolescent and adult Tdap boosters. You can also visit the Shot By Shot website to view more personal stories of vaccine preventable diseases.