A Whooping Cough Story

I had suffered four miscarriages prior to getting pregnant with Callie. So to have her, was truly amazing. I called her our “miracle baby”.

Callie’s story, as told by her mother Katie.


On January 24, I noticed Callie had a soft, dry cough. It sounded like when a child mimics their parent to get attention. It really sounded fake, but being a first time overprotective mom, I called the doctor on Monday and took her to be looked at.

The doctor looked her over and said she was healthy and that the cough would just run its course. Nothing more, nothing less. So I said okay, and we went on our way.

Tuesday, her cough was much the same, but Callie seemed more tired than usual. Tuesday evening she slept through the night. When we got up Wednesday, she was pale and lethargic. We tried to feed her but she didn’t eat much. Not typical for her since she normally ate 2oz every 3 hours on the hour. She liked her feedings!

So I called the doctor and we had an appointment at 11:30am. The nurse came in to check her over and we waited for the doctor.

While waiting to see the doctor, I was holding Callie and when I went to shift her, she wasn’t breathing. I yelled for the nurse who came rushing in and took her from my arms. She shook Callie and then pounded on her chest. Callie came back on her own.

They blamed it on apnea. They called 911 and the paramedics took Callie and me to the ER by ambulance.

In the ER, nurses and doctors flocked to our room. It was truly overwhelming. I was scared and Callie was screaming. (Normally Callie was very quiet, and always a happy baby). They admitted Callie to the PICU under the care of two of the best doctors in the nation.

Finding a Diagnosis

She was admitted on a Wednesday afternoon and they treated her for a viral infection. They hooked her up to an IV so she was getting fluids. They wouldn’t allow her to eat because at this point, they weren’t sure if she was having a reflux problem or anything. So they just watched and monitored her. Craig and I never left her side. We spent the first night in the Ronald McDonald Room there at the hospital, the other two nights we stayed in her room with her.

On Thursday she was still doing okay. She was alert and would smile. She kept sticking her feet up in the air so we could rub them for her… oh how she LOVED to have her feet rubbed!! So cute.

Friday came and during a vitals check, they told us they were going to start treating her for a bacterial infection. They started antibiotics. Since Callie’s cough had gotten a little worse, they wanted to sedate her and put her on a ventilator before they did a spinal tap to rule out meningitis.

They also wanted to insert a PICC line into her arm for giving her fluids. I gave my consent and they did these things. They finished up around 7pm that Friday. We went back into her room to be by her side. Granted she was sedated, but she still had her spunky personality. She would still smile from time to time and she knew we were there. She’d even “smile” with her eyes when we’d rub her head. She was amazing.

My mother had been there with us most of the day and around 10:15pm she headed home. Before she left she talked to the doctor and he told her Callie would be fine, just needed to have the infection run its course and she’d be better.

We never felt like her life was in danger. The whole staff was very calm and never a sense of urgency or panic.

At 11pm, a respiratory therapist came into the room to give Callie a breathing treatment and untangled her tubes. Once she got Callie hooked back up, within 10 minutes the nurse came rushing in because Callie’s stats were dropping. It was then they asked us to leave the room.

Every nurse on the floor came rushing into Callie’s room, and we knew it wasn’t good. We called our parents to come up and be with us. Still, at this point, we didn’t think we’d lose her.

The doctor came running and said he’d fill us in once he assessed the situation.

The resident doctor came to us and told us “it’s not good” in a cold bitter tone. Not overly comforting. A short while later our families joined us and then a Chaplain from the hospital came up to talk to us. She claimed she speaks with families during good and bad times and at that point we knew it wasn’t going to be anything good.

We walked back to Callie’s room and stood outside watching as they performed CPR. My father never left her doorway. They worked on her for 45 minutes until they pronounced her death at 1:12am on January 30. The worst day of my life.

The doctors that night told us she passed from respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.  Two days later, the doctor called the house and told us the test for pertussis (whooping cough) came back positive. It was heartbreaking to hear but at least we had a cause.

We wondered, however, where she got it from. She was only five weeks old and never went anywhere except to see her doctor. Could she have caught it while in NICU for 12 days after her birth? They say it takes 7 to 21 days before you start to notice symptoms, so in all honesty, she could have caught in the NICU.

Days later, tests and the coroner’s report confirmed that Callie had died of acute pertussis pneumonia. The diagnosis shocked us as we had made sure we kept Callie in the house and away from family and friends to protect her from sickness.

Since Callie’s passing, my husband and I have welcomed three healthy babies. We made sure that our teenage son, family members and friends were all up-to-date with their Tdap vaccination prior to meeting each of our new babies.

I was also relieved to know that the Tdap vaccine that I got during the third trimester of each of my pregnancies would protect my precious babies as well. (The CDC now recommends that pregnant women receive a Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine) in the third trimester of every pregnancy to help protect their newborns from whooping cough.)



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