Every Child By Two Parent Advocate Receives Childhood Immunization Champion Award
Each year I look over the list of Childhood Immunization Champion Award winners and I am truly inspired.
During National Infant Immunization Week (April 18-25, 2015) the CDC and the CDC Foundation recognizes “Champions” from every state. While the Champions are often public health professionals, doctors and nurses, being selected as a Champion isn’t just about doing your job.
Being a Champion requires an extraordinary effort. It’s about going above and beyond. And it’s about promoting childhood immunizations in a way that exemplifies a commitment to change, even in the face of adversity or resistance.
This year I’m proud to say that I know a true Champion, and she is a parent advocate just like many of you. The truth is that Katie Van Tornhout didn’t need a formal award to be considered a Champion in my eyes, but I’m thrilled to know that her passion and commitment are being recognized by people who devote their entire professional lives to promoting childhood immunizations.
I came to know Katie in a very unfortunate way. After five years and four miscarriages, Katie and Craig Van Tornhout celebrated the birth of their daughter Callie in 2010. Although their baby arrived a few weeks early, she was truly a miracle. Despite the fact that they had barely left the house with Callie after her birth, their joy quickly turned to grief when a disease called pertussis, also known as whooping cough, claimed her life at just 38 days old.
It is in these challenging moments of adversity that we are often tested, and yet it was through the pain and sorrow of their loss that the Van Tornhouts – along with their angel Callie – have become forceful agents of change. Since losing her daughter, Katie has been determined to spare other children from pertussis and prevent other parents from suffering a similar tragedy.
As a Vaccine Champion and Parent Advocate for Every Child by Two, Katie accepts every chance she gets to educate the public about the dangers of pertussis. She is always speaking out to encourage Tdap vaccination for all adults, children, grandparents, caregivers and especially expectant parents. She has been interviewed by major news outlets and programs such as Good Morning America, CNN, CBS News, ABC News, and The Huffington Post, and has shared her story at state and national immunization conferences, on the Vaccinate Your Baby website, and in numerous blog posts on Shot of Prevention here, here and here.
But Katie has also taken on her own initiatives in her local community through Callie Cares, a nonprofit organization that she founded with her husband in their daughter’s memory. The organization provides gift bags of toiletries to parents of newborns and sick children who find themselves having to stay at nearby hospitals or in Ronald McDonald Houses. Each bag contains items that they may need along with a card that shares Callie’s story and reminds parents about the importance of Tdap vaccination.
Katie’s tireless efforts to educate other parents about the importance of pertussis vaccination make her Indiana’s CDC Childhood Immunization Champion. But her example serves as inspiration for all parents. The work being done by parent volunteers all across the country is invaluable and every single parent who becomes involved as a “change agent” deserves an award in our eyes.