Unprotected People Reports: Pertussis
Parents Helpless as Children Battle Pertussis
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|The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) publishes articles about
people who have suffered or died from vaccine-preventable diseases
and periodically devotes an IAC Express issue to such an article.
This is the 74th in our series.
|In the case reports below, parents recount the suffering their
young children endured during life-and-death struggles with
pertussis. The parents' overriding message is that pertussis is
common and has the potential to kill infants and young children.
For this reason, parents of newborns and children too young to be
fully vaccinated have to learn about the dangers of pertussis and
keep their children away from coughing people.
|Most of today's parents haven't witnessed a child coughing with
pertussis or manifesting other signs of the disease. Thanks to the
Internet, parents can hear and see children wracked with cough and
gasping for air by accessing audio and video clips on these
websites: http://www.pertussis.com and http://www.vaccineinformation.org/video.
|Two statements below, provided by Pamela and Kevin Durkin and Mary-Clayton Enderlein, appear on http://www.pertussis.com, a project of
the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP).
They are reprinted here with permission of NAPNAP, the copyright
holder. Thomas Morris's statement appeared in the Winter 1999 issue
of Immunize Georgia's Little Guys, a newsletter published by
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). It is reprinted here with
the permission of CHOA, the copyright holder. The three accounts
appeared in the May 2005 issue of IAC's print publication "Needle
|The Hospitalization of Colin, Mary-Clayton Enderlein's Newborn Son
During my ninth month of pregnancy, I was exposed to whooping cough
by an unvaccinated playmate of my older son. Even though as an
adult my own symptoms were relatively mild, I would soon realize
the dangers of transmitting the disease to my newborn son. Young
infants, such as my son Colin, are within the age range in which
the disease poses the most danger for severe complications and even
I gave my son Colin pertussis with my first kiss and would watch
him suffer with the disease for the first few months of his life.
Pertussis left him exhausted because he would cough continuously
until he turned blue and threw up, gasping for breath. At one week
of age, he was hospitalized for ten days and placed on continuous
monitors and intravenous medications. The effects of the disease
continued for many months even after he was discharged from the
hospital. Watching him closely and listening to every heartbeat, I
understand what it feels like to watch your child battle a
potentially fatal disease far before they even take their first
steps into the new world. I would encourage all parents to be on
the lookout for pertussis and suspect it in older children and
adults before they spread it to younger children and infants. No
child is safe unless he or she is vaccinated against pertussis, a
decision that unfortunately for Colin, we never had the choice to
The Hospitalization of Thomas T. Morris's Preschool Son, Nick
[In the early 1990s, Nick Morris of Columbus, GA, almost died from
pertussis. Here is his story, as told by his father to Immunize
Georgia's Little Guys.]
Nick's father, Thomas T. Morris, says parents would never hesitate
to immunize their children if they understood what whooping cough
puts a child through.
"If you were able to see the horrible, debilitating condition the
disease brings about, it greatly outweighs the risk of a reaction
to the inoculation itself," Morris said.
Nick received his first pertussis vaccination. But his parents
responded to a national media blitz about adverse effects of the
vaccine and chose not to complete the series. Nick had already been
prone to lung problems and seizures, and they didn't want to take
"My wife and I, thinking we were making an informed, educated
decision, chose not to get the second dose," Morris said. "We
When he was 4, Nick developed a cough, which gradually worsened. As
his condition progressed, an ambulance took him from a Columbus
hospital to Scottish Rite Children's Medical Center in Atlanta.
His parents feared their child would die. His coughing spells were
frequently violent, causing him to vomit and turn blue, and he
suffered additional complications.
In hindsight, Morris says he thinks the media did a disservice by
frightening parents about the vaccine without noting the risks of
"It was everywhere, a big national controversy," he said. "The
press really ran with it without knowing what they reported would
Nick and his older sister are now fully immunized.
The Death of Colin, Pamela and Kevin Durkin's Infant Son
We never knew that our newborn son, Colin, was exposed to
pertussis. He never showed signs of the classic "whoop," for which
the disease is named. But something was definitely wrong. After
visiting our family's pediatrician in December of 2002, we were
immediately referred to the local emergency room, where he was
diagnosed with a stomach virus. Two nights later, he began severe
vomiting so we took him back to the hospital.
After numerous respiratory tests, spinal tests, and chest x-rays,
he was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Over the next
24 hours Colin's breathing became more and more labored and he
developed a gagging cough. As his condition grew worse, Colin was
intubated and transported to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
where he was put on life support. Finally, on his second day of
life support, Colin was diagnosed with pertussis. Colin was our
fourth child, and we never even realized he could contract
pertussis and didn't understand its dangers. He was born a healthy,
beautiful 7-lb. baby, whose life was suffocated out of him long
before he would have taken his first step.
Colin died December 14, 2002, at seven weeks of age. Our lives, the
lives of his siblings and extended family will never be the same.
We could not be more devastated or bewildered about the events we
encountered the week Colin died. We didn't know about pertussis
until it was too late. Colin's experience has brought us closer as
a family and compelled us to share our story. We encourage everyone
to learn all they can about this disease; how it affects
adolescents, adults, and especially unimmunized infants and young
We never had the chance to immunize Colin as he was still too
young, but an ounce of prevention could go a long way in saving
your child's life . . . .
|5/25/05 • REPORT #74
|Disclaimer: The Immunization Action Coalition (IAC) publishes
Unprotected People Reports for the purpose of making them available
for our readers' review. We have not verified the content of this