Whooping cough video could 'potentially save lives'

Whooping cough video could 'potentially save lives' Source: SBS

The heart-breaking video of a newborn baby struggling to breathe, as whooping cough wracks his body, has been released by his parents in an effort to save lives.

The heart-breaking video of a newborn baby struggling to breathe, as whooping cough wracks his body, has been released by his parents in an effort to save lives.

Riley Hughes was only 32 days old when he succumbed to the disease.

His parents have been campaigning to promote the importance of vaccinations, and they're hoping the video will strengthen their message.

Ryan Emery has the details, and a warning that this story contains some distressing themes.

Four-year-old Olivia Hughes is a happy child.

Playing with her parents Catherine and Greg Hughes on a trampoline in a backyard in the Perth suburb of Claremont.

But the family of three is missing a member - Riley Hughes.

Riley Hughes was Olivia's baby brother for 32 days before his life was taken by whooping cough last March.

His parents have been campaigning ever since to get pregnant women in their third trimester to be vaccinated against the disease.

Catherine Hughes says she didn't know she could've been vaccinated while pregnant.

"When I was pregnant, Queensland was the only state in Australia offering this to pregnant women. But there were other countries around the world, so when Riley was in hospital, dying, we tried to work out how this could have been prevented and that's when we discovered the UK, the USA even New Zealand had been doing this for several years now."

The Hughes say they want to stop any other families or pregnant women from missing out on such important information.

Free vaccinations have been available Australia-wide since Riley's death for pregnant women in their third trimester.

The Hughes have only recently been able to bring themselves to watch the heart-breaking video of Riley's last days and hope it will grab people's attention.

Greg Hughes.

"I think the big thing for us was that, the videos, they show before and after hospitalisation as well and if it prompts another parent to even just take the opportunity to see a GP and ask the question if their child is displaying those symptoms - that's the reason we put it out there. We wanted to potentially save lives."

The medical co-ordinator of Western Australia's Communicable Disease Control Directorate, Paul Effler, says the advice that it was safe to vaccinate pregnant women came shortly after Riley's death.

Paul Effler says it changed the strategy for protecting newborn babies, who can't be vaccinated, against the potentially deadly disease.

"Previously we were running what was called a cocoon strategy and the goal there was to vaccinate mums and dads and grandparents and other people would take care of the child to protect that newborn was actually acquiring it from somebody in their cocoon, in their network. What we've learned is that vaccinating pregnant women while they have the baby in utero is much more effective because the antibodies go directly into the child to protect them when they're born rather than trying to stop them from acquiring it from someone in their environment."

Paul Effler says it appears Catherine Hughe's campaign could be having an impact, and more than 60 per cent of pregnant West-Australian women in their third trimester have been vaccinated since last March.

He says whooping cough comes in waves as previous vaccinations wear off and vulnerable children enter the population.

"Well we always have some cases of whooping cough going on in the community, but there's been some increases recently that make us think that we might be due for an outbreak in the coming year or so."

Catherine Hughes has been awarded Western Australia's Young Person of the Year for her vaccination campaign.

The 28-year-old has also secured more than 45,000 vaccines for UNICEF, the United Nations' children's agency, and raised more than 70-thousand-dollars for whooping cough research.

She has come across so-called anti-vaxxers - those who are opposed to vaccinations - but she says her and her husband's anger is directed at the disease that claimed their son's life.

"We don't have any plans to stop. We are such big believers in science and evidence-based medicine, and vaccination is one of those things that's proven to work. It's safe and effective. It's so important that people vaccinate so we'll continue to keep doing what we're doing in honour of our son Riley."



Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch