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Pertussis: Unprotected Story

A Preventable Tragedy

True story

I encourage people to be sure they get the Tdap booster shot. Getting that shot could save a life.

On Christmas Eve 2009, Katie and Craig welcomed their daughter Callie Grace into the world. After trying for 5 years to have a child—and suffering several miscarriages—the couple considered Callie their miracle baby. Callie was born 6 weeks early, but she was healthy and strong and came home after only 2 weeks in the hospital.

In January, when she was a month old, Callie developed a soft, dry cough. "It sounded like when a child mimics their parent to get attention. I took her to the doctor," Katie recalls. The doctor did not find any serious signs of illness, so he sent them home.

However, over the next couple of days, Callie's condition worsened. She continued to cough, and she also became pale, didn't move around much, and suddenly lost her healthy appetite. Katie took Callie back to the doctor, and while they waited, Callie stopped breathing. A nurse was able to get Callie breathing again, and they were rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

"At the hospital, nurses and doctors flocked to our room," Katie remembers. "It was truly overwhelming. I was scared and Callie was screaming." Callie was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where the staff ran tests to try to find out what was wrong. After a couple of days of monitoring, they started her on antibiotics, while still waiting on test results.

During Callie's second day at the hospital, she seemed to be doing OK and her parents were hopeful that she'd recover. According to Katie, "Callie was alert and would smile. She kept sticking her feet in the air so we could rub them for her. We never really thought her life was in danger."

But the next night, Callie stopped breathing again. Family members watched helplessly from behind a glass wall as doctors tried for 45 minutes to revive her. Tragically, Callie could not be saved. She was only 5 weeks old. "We never dreamed we'd lose her," Katie said. "Callie was a more loved, more wanted baby than you'd ever find."

A few days later, the family found out that whooping cough was the cause of Callie's death. "We could not believe it," Katie says, "We were so careful to not expose her to a lot of people. She never left the house except to go to the pediatrician," Katie says.

The first dose of DTaP vaccine is recommended at 2 months of age but babies are not fully protected until they get all the recommended doses. Callie was too young to even get her first dose of DTaP.

Babies need whooping cough vaccination on time, but there's another important way to protect them. Family members and others who are around babies should be vaccinated—children should be up to date with DTaP, and everyone 11 years of age and older should get Tdap, the booster shot that prevents pertussis.

"Callie could have caught whooping cough from any of the few people that she had contact with—even from someone in the hospital right after she was born. People with even a slight cough might have whooping cough but not know it. I urge everyone to make sure their children have all their DTaP shots on time. I also encourage people to be sure they get the Tdap booster shot," Katie says. "Getting that shot could save a life."

This story is one of many recounted in the fact sheets series, Diseases & the Vaccines that Prevent Them.

For other true stories, see Vaccines: Unprotected Stories.

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