When this newborn baby girl contracted whooping cough, a skilled emergency room team knew what to do.
My pregnancy with Hailey was anything but ordinary. My placenta and uterus had multiple blood clots; her umbilical cord had a large knot in it, and she had intrauterine growth restriction, which basically meant Hailey wasn’t growing properly in utero. Several times during my pregnancy we thought we had lost her but were thrilled when we delivered a healthy baby girl on November 17, 2005. At 5 pounds 1 ounce, Hailey was bigger than expected and in perfect health.
We brought Hailey home from the hospital four days later, but within a week she developed a tiny cough. We figured it was just a bug her big sister had brought home from nursery school, so we ignored it. At 3 weeks old her cough worsened. Our pediatrician said it was probably a common cold but to watch her closely. Over the next few days, Hailey’s coughs turned into “coughing fits,” and she struggled to breathe. Being a second-time parent I tried not to panic – after all she had already been seen by the doctor – but at the end of that week something was not right.
That Friday Hailey coughed so hard I thought she turned blue. Or was I imagining it? A friend, who is a nurse, looked at her and said she seemed to be fine. Hailey turned shades of blue again on Saturday, and I spent all of Saturday night holding her as she gasped for air. Was it asthma? Was it something worse? We took her to the emergency room on Sunday morning, and the intensivist on-call said that had we waited even another few hours, Hailey might not have made it. In fact, on the way to the hospital we had had to pull over because she had briefly stopped breathing. Hailey had pertussis – or whooping cough.
I had no idea people still got pertussis, nor did I know it was resurging due to people reluctant to immunize their children. Worldwide, pertussis causes 300,000 deaths per year. We were lucky. Children get their first pertussis vaccine at 2 months old; Hailey was only 4 weeks.
We still don’t know where Hailey got pertussis – maybe it was even in the hospital at birth. I see pertussis mentioned more and more in parenting magazines and I urge parents to learn about it and similar diseases, so they may recognize the warning signs and possibly save a life. Had I known about pertussis, I could have recognized the symptoms. Had I recognized her cough as warning signs, I would have acted faster. Hailey spent a week in the ICU dependent on oxygen, and she returned to the hospital a month later after having had a seizure which may or may not have been related. Thankfully Hailey is now a happy, energetic, 2-and-a-half-year-old, and asthma is the only lasting repercussion. But I know we were lucky.
From this ordeal we learned three very important lessons: First, trust your gut instinct when it comes to the health of your child. Second, don’t take your children’s health for granted. And lastly, after almost losing a child to a preventable disease, we realized the importance of immunizations.
We are so thankful that Hailey’s pertussis is a thing of the past, and we are so sad for those children that didn’t make it. R Baby is an amazing foundation, and we’re grateful to be able to share our “happy ending” story and hopefully help save other babies.