A Mother Speaks Out to Protect Others Against Pertussis in Her Daughter's Memory
Apr 28, 2010

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.

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