Infant Dies at 38 Days But Her Story Tries to Save Lives
Jan 30, 2014

Katie and Craig Van Tornhout with their miracle baby CallieAfter five years and four miscarriages, Katie and Craig Van Tornhout celebrated the birth of their daughter Callie.   Although she arrived a few weeks early, she was truly their miracle baby.  But their joy quickly turned to grief when a disease called pertussis, also known as whooping cough, claimed her life at just 38 days old.

Katie explains,

“To an adult, pertussis can seem like just a stubborn cough, but to Callie and other newborns who are too young to be immunized, it can be deadly because they aren’t able to fight it off.   In an infant, it’s likely that this disease can result in respiratory failure.  IV tubes or ventilators may be needed to help a baby breathe and they are in danger of having their lungs shut down.  As a mother, I can’t tell you how heartbreaking this is to watch.”

Families_callie_van_tornhoutToday marks the four-year “angelversary” of Callie’s passing, and in that time a lot has changed.

In 2012, 48,277 people were diagnosed with pertussis and the Advisory Council of Immunization Practices (ACIP) issued new vaccine recommendations advising all expectant women to receive a Tdap booster with each pregnancy, preferably in their third trimester.  Not only does the vaccine help protect the mother from contracting pertussis and infecting her own newborn, it also provides maternal antibodies that can protect the newborn in those early months before the baby can be fully vaccinated.

ECBT_Pertussis English_Bus Shelter_HIGH RES SmallAnd a lot has changed for the Van Tornhout family as well.  In addition to their 17-year-old son Cole, the Van Tornhout’s have since had two other children, Chesney and Cain, with another on the way.  With each new pregnancy they have taken every precaution to protect their babies from pertussis, and every opportunity to educate others about the importance of their adult Tdap boosters.  Not only have they insisted that friends and family be immunized, but they’ve also ensured that every hospital staff member who has had contact with their babies was also up to date on their Tdap booster.

“We still wonder where Callie contracted pertussis. She was only five weeks old and never went anywhere except to see her doctor.  I wish I had known that Callie was vulnerable to this disease and I wish I had known about the need for adult Tdap boosters.  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.”

CalliesCrusadeThe Van Tornhout’s know that Callie’s life, as brief as it was, can make a difference in the lives of others.  Each day they continue to turn a terrible situation into one of hope and love, by becoming local advocates for Every Child By Two, sharing their message on ABC’s Good Morning America, and speaking out in their local community to ensure parents understand how to protect their babies until they are fully immunized.  Katie explains,

“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.”

Despite the pain and grief that lingers to this day, Callie will always be a part of their every day lives. Driving home the other night Katie recalls her daughter Chesney looking up at the stars outside the car window.  Katie explains,

“Chesney just pointed and said ‘Callie’s looking at us!”  Then she began singing ‘I Miss You In My Heart’.  If she only knew how much that touched my heart.”

The Van Tornhout’s continue to honor Callie’s memory through an organization they started called Callie Cares.  After their own personal experience staying at the Ronald McDonald House while Callie was in intensive care, they now gather donations of travel sized toiletries and assemble them into care packages for other guests of the Ronald McDonald House.   The packages include everything from shampoo, conditioner, bath soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, razors, lotion and anything else that may make for a more comfortable stay.

But every year on this date they awake to a somber memory.  This morning, Katie shared this message on her Facebook page:

“Four years ago we lost Callie, FOUR! It seems like just yesterday. I miss her so much every day and I always say I don’t want her “angel date” to bog me down, yet here I sit and cry. I love and miss you sooo much Callie.  Thank you for sending me your spunky siblings but know they will never replace you. Momma loves you Callie Girl, always & forever”

While it may seem like just yesterday, we know that Callie’s story has been shared with countless people over these past four years.  Please help Callie continue to spread her angel wings by sharing her story again today, and honoring the many other infants who have succumbed to pertussis (such as Brady, Carter and Brie and so many more).  If people can understand that getting their own Tdap boosters can protect newborn babies, then we may be able to reduce the threat of this dangerous and deadly disease for every child born from this day forward.  Callie may have only lived for 38 days, but her story can live on in the actions we take.

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