Home > In the News, Parent Perspective, Preventable Diseases > A Mother Speaks Out to Protect Others Against Pertussis in Her Daughter’s Memory

A Mother Speaks Out to Protect Others Against Pertussis in Her Daughter’s Memory

Katie and Craig Van Tornhout with their newborn daughter Callie

By Katie Van Tornhout

After five years and four miscarriages, our daughter Callie entered the world.  Although she was born six weeks early, the doctors felt comfortable letting us take her home after just two weeks in the hospital.  She was truly a miracle.  Our joy quickly turned into grief and confusion just five weeks later, however, when a disease called pertussis claimed her life.  We’ve shared Callie’s story here.

As hard as it is to talk about what happened to Callie, I want to make sure that parents understand how important it is to protect your baby until they are fully immunized.  I wish I had known that Callie was vulnerable to this disease, even while she was sitting in the NICU.  To an adult, pertussis can seem like an innocent cough, but to Callie and other newborns who are too young to be immunized, they aren’t able to fight it off and it can eventually result in respiratory failure.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with pertussis, it is a very contagious illness that is transmitted similar to the way the common cold is. In serious cases like Callie’s, babies with whooping cough may need IV tubes or a ventilator to breathe, and are in danger of having their lungs shut down. As a mother, I can’t tell you how heartbreaking this is to watch.

We still wonder where Callie contracted pertussis. She was only five weeks old and never went anywhere except to see her doctor.  I just wish that I had known about the Tdap vaccine, and how at risk babies like Callie are for contracting pertussis. I would have insisted that I, my husband and our friends and family who came to visit be immunized. I would have asked more questions about the nurses who handled Callie in the NICU, and whether they had been immunized.

We may never have our questions about how Callie contracted this devastating disease answered. The only peace of mind will come from speaking out and preventing other parents from experiencing this heartbreak.  You never know how many people breathe the same air you breathe each day.  Please, get vaccinated and only surround your baby with others who have been immunized.

The Van Tornhout’s story was featured on ABC’s Good Morning America on April 28th.  To hear more about their devasting experience, and the importance of immunization, view the segment “Your Family’s Health: Many Experts Urge Vaccination Against Whooping Cough” here.

  1. Danielle Romaguera
    April 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    I saw the piece on Good Morning America and thought it was great! I am so proud of you all for speaking out. More parents need to be made aware of what can happen. That these diseases are real and can kill. This is not just something that has disappeared. My daughter also passed away in 2003 due to pertussis. This is real and still around.


  2. sarah
    April 30, 2010 at 10:40 am

    this is a very sad story – but its too bad that no one will tell these parents the truth: the pertussis vaccine does not prevent transmission of the disease. these parents need to read the fine print on the vaccine inserts and ads for Tdap and stop blaming those who are not at fault.


  3. May 3, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I am not sure what you mean in saying that “the pertussis vaccine does not prevent transmission of the disease.” that is the entire point of the vaccine…to prevent transmission of the disease to others (it is not a treatment for an already contracted illness). The reason adults need to be vaccinated with Tdap is b/c adults are most often the ones transmitting to the newborns (who are not able to be vaccinated until they are 2 months of age and are not fully protected until they are finished with the series of vaccines). Adults have this persistent cough and are very often undiagnosed until it’s too late to protect others.


  4. May 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Amy thanks for your comment back to Sarah. I was shocked I too lost a daughter but to pnuemoccocal. I can’t tell parents enough the importance of vaccinations. Save your children and someone else’s – get your vaccines and make sure you are on track with your children. We have whooping cough in our school and we have a infant.


  5. kay Robinson
    June 5, 2010 at 9:30 am

    My prayers go out to you all that have lost a child. i have been viewing television and heard about this illness and i have been sharing this info with my daughter which has a 4mth old.Thanks for the information. Iam also a daycare provider and i will pass this information on to my parents.


  1. June 12, 2010 at 2:04 pm

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