Mary-Clayton Enderlein and her husband Christoph had been married almost 10 years and had a nine-year old son named Kyle when the couple found out they were going to welcome their second child into the world. At nine months pregnant, Mary-Clayton was exposed to pertussis, a highly contagious, long-lasting respiratory infection, from an unvaccinated playmate of her son. Within a week, Mary-Clayton began having coughing fits. Mary-Clayton, a registered nurse, was familiar with pertussis and suspected that is what she had contracted; however, while she was waiting for test results confirming the disease, her water broke and she went into labor. Mary-Clayton gave birth to a healthy son named Colin; however, Colin quickly caught his mother’s case of pertussis, which is potentially life-threatening for infants.
One week later, Colin began having fits where he coughed uncontrollably for extended periods of time, gasping for air whenever he could. Additionally, Colin would cough so severely during the fits that his lips would turn blue and he would vomit. Realizing the severity of the situation, Mary-Clayton and her husband rushed Colin to the emergency room, where he was immediately admitted and diagnosed with pertussis. Colin spent the next 10 days in the intensive care unit, placed on continuous monitors and intravenous medications, having as many as 50 coughs in a row while he began receiving antibiotics.
Fortunately for the Enderleins, Colin recovered from the disease. However, even after he was discharged from the hospital, it took him several months to fully regain his strength. Additionally, he continued to cough throughout the first year of his life, and the disease left his immune system in a fragile state, causing him to develop several respiratory infections.
Even though Mary-Clayton’s experience with pertussis was more than 15 years ago, she is still active in her community, using her background in nursing to speak out about the dangers of pertussis and the importance of vaccination for all members of the family. Today, Mary-Clayton is back in school, as she is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Health, and Colin is a junior in high school.
From their experience, the family is more outspoken about the social responsibility of vaccination. Pertussis is a vaccine-preventable disease; however, infants who have not received all their immunizations against the disease are still vulnerable.
Vaccine preventable diseases are on the rise in the Puget Sound area according to regional health officials. Specifically, pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is affecting an increasing number of people of all ages. While it may be an annoyance for older children and adults, it can be life threatening for unprotected infants. This issue is especially germane to me because I might have died from pertussis when I was just a week old. When my mother was in her ninth month of pregnancy with me, she was exposed to the sick baby sister of one of my brother’s playmates. It turns out that the child’s parents did not believe in immunizations and the infant eventually tested positive for pertussis. Soon, my mother came down with cold symptoms that later turned out to be whooping cough. Unfortunately, her diagnosis was not confirmed until well after she had given birth to me yet with her first kiss she exposed me to a disease, which according to the CDC, has a mortality rate of 40% for infants less than three months of age. I was hospitalized when my own symptoms began a week later and survived with the help of antibiotics and constant monitoring. For many years, I continued to experience the lingering effects of this disease.
Despite stories like mine, a record number of parents in my local area are choosing not to immunize their children. The Seattle-King County Health Department published findings, which indicate this trend is particularly prevalent in well-educated, but misinformed parents who avoid vaccinations based on the widely publicized yet unsubstantiated articles implicating vaccines as a cause of childhood autism. Overall, my parent’s generation did not experience the epidemics prevalent in prior generations involving significant mortality and morbidity from diseases such as polio, small pox, measles and pertussis. Large immunization efforts successfully curtailed the effects of these illnesses and our parents, as children, did not endure the suffering and quarantines of an earlier era. Perhaps this lack of experience with the realities of these illnesses explain why there is a reluctance to have their own children exposed to the much smaller risks associated with immunizations.
I understand why parents today are overwhelmed by the vast amount of conflicting information available on the subject as well as why they are daunted by the required number of shots. Yet to parents who fear their child may be the one exception who ends up with a serious complication, the reasons not to immunize are clear. Unfortunately, when many people make this choice, the whole community is at risk. When the number of immune people dips below a critical level, disease rates in communities like mine increase markedly.
I feel it is imperative that people consider the social consequences of refusing immunizations. It is not only that person or their child who is at risk, but they may unintentionally expose a vulnerable individual. Public information campaigns focused on educating consumers and health care providers are essential to help distribute factual information about the real consequences associated with vaccine-preventable disease. My family has become engaged in promoting my story as a means to convey the seriousness of choosing not to immunize. In the future, I would also like to become directly involved in these efforts to help prevent diseases that can be averted with vaccines in the hope that other infants will avoid becoming as ill as I was in my early childhood.
In January 2005, Chauntell had what she thought was just a cold, and then her newborn son got it too. Rather than getting better, over the next few weeks their conditions worsened. Chauntell eventually became too ill to care for Geoffrey, and his coughing spells became so severe that one day he stopped breathing. Chauntell and her husband rushed Geoffrey to the hospital. He was tested for a respiratory virus and sent home when the test came back negative.
Within a few days, Geoffrey’s condition worsened to the point that Chauntell and her husband rushed him back to the emergency room. This time the doctors determined that he had whooping cough, and, based on her symptoms, she had given it to him.
Geoffrey was admitted to the hospital and placed in isolation with no stimulation – any time he got excited or started to cry he would experience a coughing spell. He spent nine days in the hospital, causing Chauntell and her husband to “split shifts” to be with Geoffrey at the hospital and at home taking care of their two older sons, aged 12 and 10 at the time.
Upon returning home, Geoffrey continued his recovery; he still coughed for another two months, but it was not as severe as when he was in the hospital.
The Veit family realizes how lucky they were. Geoffrey was quickly diagnosed, received proper care and survived whooping cough. He has made a full recovery with no lasting effects from the disease. Geoffrey’s illness could not have been prevented because he was too young to receive his first dose of whooping cough vaccine. But he has since been vaccinated according to the recommended schedule.
When Geoffrey was born, there was very little that Chauntell could do to protect him from whooping cough. But now there is a whooping cough booster vaccine for adolescents and adults. It bolsters protection and prevents the spread of whooping cough to infants. Chauntell urges moms to vaccinate their babies according to the recommended childhood schedule, and hopes that anyone who will be around an infant gets the whooping cough booster vaccine for themselves.
In late 2002, the Durkin family lost seven-week-old Colin to pertussis.
Colin was a full term, healthy, seven pound baby who gained weight every week. He was born on October 28, 2002, and weighed 10 pounds by December 3 rd, when his mom, Pamela, took him to the hospital for vomiting and a cry he had developed, which she felt indicated that he was in pain. After examination at the hospital, Colin was sent home.
On December 6 th, baby Colin, presenting the same symptoms from his visit a few days before, was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of pneumonia.
Colin rapidly declined and was rushed to CHOP in Philadelphia. On day three of his stay in the hospital, he was finally diagnosed with pertussis. He lived until December 14 th, when life support was terminated due to a hemorrhage in the brain. Colin was 47 days old. In just a few days he had gone from being a healthy, growing, beautiful baby boy to a baby with a fatal illness.
During the time of Colin’s illness, there had been reports of pertussis in the area along with a description of symptoms parents should watch for. Pamela said her son had none of those symptoms.
After Colin died, Pamela reached out to experts to try and understand what had happened and how Colin could have gotten pertussis. As she put it, she was looking for guidance on the long and sorrowful trip they were making.
Colin was too young to be immunized and it’s not known where he contracted the disease. It could have been anyone’s baby, which is why Pamela continues to tell her family’s story. She wants no other families to experience such pain.
Diana and Matt Simpson had been married for almost three years when they welcomed their first child into the world, a son named Nicholas. About three months before Nicholas was born, Diana developed a cough, which she originally believed to be no different from the average cough. However, Diana had contracted pertussis, a highly contagious, long-lasting respiratory infection. The illness persisted, and she continued to cough even after Nicholas was born.
When he was only three weeks old, Nicholas caught the illness, which is potentially life-threatening for infants. The disease caused him to cough uncontrollably for extended periods of time, gasping for air whenever he could. Diana quickly realized the severity of the situation, and immediately consulted her pediatrician, who advised her to speak with a specialist at Hurley Medical Center. After a few tests, it was confirmed that both mother and child were in fact dealing with pertussis. As if having a sick child wasn’t enough to deal with, the disease was quickly spread to Matt, as well as Nicholas’s grandmother. While the disease is not as dangerous for adults, having the cough still made it more challenging for Diana to care for her family, especially Nicholas. The coughing continued for weeks; however, thanks to the antibiotics they received and the care they provided, the family fortunately recovered from the disease. Today, Nicholas, Diana and the rest of the family are happy and healthy again.
Even though they are still cautious of dangerous diseases like pertussis, Mr. and Ms. Simpson continue to be active members of their community, participating in local neighborhood activities and garage sales in their spare time. Their experience has also kept the extended family as close as ever; Diana’s parents live on the same street as Ms. Simpson and her husband, and frequently pitch-in to take care of Nicholas when both parents are working. After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan-Flint in 2000, Diana went back to school, and now works as a dental hygienist after receiving her graduate degree in 2003.
From their experience, the family has also learned the importance of vaccination. Pertussis is a vaccine-preventable disease; however, infants who have not received all their immunizations against the disease are still vulnerable.
When baby boy Nelyn was born, his mom was in the middle of an undiagnosed and, what was worse, an untreated case of pertussis.
A couple of weeks before giving birth, Lynne Baker went to work a healthy pregnant woman and came home infected with pertussis, or whooping cough. Neither Lynne nor her husband knew that pertussis was making the rounds.
The day Nelyn was born, Lynne started coughing. A week later, she returned to see the doctor but remained undiagnosed. Everyone assumed it was a cold or perhaps a reaction to a drug given just before delivery.
After five days had passed, Lynne was back at the doctor’s office and at that time, she was given antibiotics. Four days after this, Nelyn became symptomatic and the next morning, he was taken in to see his pediatrician. The pediatrician called an ambulance and Nelyn was taken to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Scottish Rite Hospital, the intensive care unit.
At sunrise the next day, baby boy Nelyn died.
The Bakers didn’t find out until several days later that Nelyn had died from pertussis. Several of the more than 100 family and friends who came to say goodbye to Nelyn also became infected with pertussis.
Lynne and her husband Phil shared their story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in September, 2004, because they hope that by doing so, others will become aware of this disease and take action to protect themselves and their loved ones.
When the Milbrand’s daughter was born almost 5 years ago, the baby’s grandmother had a cough which she suspected was due to recent severe fires and lingering ash in the area.
At 6 weeks of age, the baby developed what her parents, Tara and Grant, thought was a severe cold. Her coughing fits were so serious, they would prop her up on a pillow next to them in bed to keep an eye on her.
Finally, she was diagnosed with pertussis and hospitalized for 10 days. Soon after she came home, she got worse and her apnea monitor would sound several times a night—she wasn’t breathing.
She was hospitalized again when it was discovered that during her bout with pertussis, she had developed Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Her parents felt that had she been old enough to receive her pertussis vaccination, or had those around her been vaccinated, their family would not have had to face the danger of these infections.
The pertussis kept spreading. A friend’s older child became infected with pertussis from contact with the Milbrand’s baby. He developed a hernia from his coughing fits and eventually had to have surgery.
All told, Tara and Grant’s daughter spent almost a month in the hospital and suffered from respiratory problems for the next 2 years, but they feel very lucky and blessed that she survived. Both Tara and Grant say that if they had been offered a pertussis booster, they certainly would have taken it and encouraged other adults in their family to do the same.
A few years ago, Danielle Romaguera gave birth to Gabrielle, or Brie, as she was called. Danielle and Ralph were typically happy parents until early one Saturday morning, just before Brie turned one month old, when the baby began to cough. At first, RSV was suspected and Brie’s pediatrician told Danielle and Ralph to take her to the emergency room. After testing was completed, it was decided that Brie had a cold. The Romagueras were sent home from the ER with a prescription.
Three days later, Brie was still coughing. The pediatrician asked the Romagueras to bring Brie in for treatment to help her breathing. Unfortunately, the treatment was ineffective and by Wednesday evening, Ralph and Danielle were taking turns sitting with Brie so that they could help her when she coughed. By Thursday morning, she was coughing and turning blue around the mouth. The Romagueras returned to the pediatrician’s office where Brie had another coughing attack. When the pediatrician saw Brie coughing, she sent the family straight to the River Parishes Hospital. While checking in at the hospital, Brie had a severe coughing attack and passed out. It was then that the pediatrician decided to send Brie to Ochsner Hospital by way of helicopter.
While at Ochsner, it was discovered that Brie had severe acid reflux, and it was thought that the coughing was related to the reflux and her milk consumption. Brie had corrective surgery, but the coughing continued post-surgery, and testing resumed, including a test for pertussis. While waiting for results, Brie began treatment for pertussis, and a few days later the test confirmed Brie’s pertussis infection. At this point, it was feared that treatment was too late.
Brie was put on a ventilator and then switched to an ECMO machine in an attempt to get oxygen to her blood. Brie began leaking fluid into her tissues, causing her to swell to be about ten times her normal size. She was put on dialysis and had a tube in her stomach to help release some of the fluid. Finally, Brie began to show signs of recovering, and then doctors detected some bleeding in her brain. When Brie was put on ECMO she was also given a blood thinner, which caused her to bleed in her brain. Ralph and Danielle hoped and prayed that the blood would clot, and it did, but the next morning they saw that Brie was bleeding on the opposite side of her brain. At that time they had no choice but to take her off of ECMO.
March 6, 2003, was the day the Romagueras received the phone call. The doctors explained everything to them and gave them enough time for all of the family to come in and say their good-byes. Danielle held Brie and rocked her while Ralph read a special little story to her. Brie lived for about 30 minutes after the machine was turned off. She was only 52 days old when she left this world, and was exactly one month old when she was admitted into the hospital. Danielle noted that the day Brie died she was just seven days short of receiving her first pertussis immunization.
Important disclaimer: The information on pkids.org is for educational purposes only and should not be considered to be medical advice. It is not meant to replace the advice of the physician who cares for your child. All medical advice and information should be considered to be incomplete without a physical exam, which is not possible without a visit to your doctor.
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