Riley Hughes was born a gorgeous and healthy baby boy on February 13th, 2015. He was our second child and we were so delighted to have him in our family.
At three weeks of age, he started displaying mild cold-like symptoms, and developed an occasional cough. We called out a locum, who assured us he was fine. However instincts took over, and after a night where he slept a lot and barely woke for his usual two-hourly breastfeed, we knew something wasn’t right. We took him straight to our local children’s hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth, Western Australia.
Riley was admitted that afternoon, and at first it was thought he had bronchiolitis. Pretty quickly, the doctors suspected pertussis (whooping cough) and began treating him for it. On the 4th day of his hospital stay, he was taken to PICU with pneumonia, and his swab tests confirmed he did indeed have whooping cough. He grew steadily worse and worse, and despite all the best medical intervention, Riley passed away in our arms the next afternoon, at just 32 days old.
While Riley was dying in hospital, we discovered that women in the UK, USA, Belgium and New Zealand were being recommended a whooping cough vaccine in their third trimester. This vaccine, usually given between 28-32 weeks gestation, provides the unborn baby with the necessary antibodies to protect them from this terrible disease. Since the introduction of this pregnancy vaccine, the UK has seen a reduction in infant deaths from pertussis by over 90%.
Two days after Riley’s death, our state government announced the introduction of a program where these third trimester booster shots would be offered free of charge to pregnant women. Other states soon followed, and now all states and territories in Australia have free whooping cough booster shots for pregnant women.