Vaccinate Your Baby

Victims of Vaccine-Preventable Disease

Callie Van Tornhout

Callie Van Tornhout

Craig and Katie Van Tornhout wanted nothing more than a younger sibling for their son, Cole. After five years of miscarriages, Katie finally gave birth to a baby girl, whom they named Callie Grace. Callie was born six weeks early, but was strong and healthy. In January 2010, one-month old Callie developed a strange, dry cough. Katie took her to the pediatrician, who gave the baby a checkup but found no real signs of illness and sent the family home.

Over the next few days, Callie's coughing continued, she wasn't eating and she seemed lethargic, so her parents took her back to the doctor. During the visit, Callie suddenly stopped breathing. She was rushed to the hospital where doctors performed a variety of tests. Callie eventually regained her breathing and color and her parents were hopeful she would recover. But that Friday night, Callie again stopped breathing. Family members watched from behind a glass wall as a team of doctors and nurses performed CPR. Callie could not be saved. She was only 38 days old.

Days later, tests and the coroner's report confirmed that Callie had died of Acute Pertussis Pneumonia. The diagnosis shocked the family as they had taken care to keep Callie in the house and away from family and friends to protect her from sickness.

In the last few years, pertussis, or "whooping cough," cases have increased, especially in northern Indiana, where Callie and her family lived. As pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease, experts point to a growing number of parents choosing not to immunize their children according to the Recommended Child Immunization Schedule as one possible reason for the surge.

The DTaP vaccine (pediatric Diphtheria, Tetanus and acellular Pertussis vaccine) is given to most babies as a series of shots starting at 2 months of age. It is recommended that new mothers and other caregivers receive the Tdap vaccine (adult Tetanus, Diphtheria and acellular Pertussis vaccine) to protect children too young to be fully protected from these diseases. Some hospitals also regularly provide new mothers the Tdap vaccine shortly after they give birth, but the practice, known as "cocooning," is a hospital decision made on a case-by-case basis and is not mandated. Callie was too young to receive the pertussis vaccine.

Despite their heartache, the Van Tornhouts hope sharing their story might help other parents learn about pertussis and the importance of immunizing children.

To read Callie's story in her mother's words, click here.

To learn more about pertussis, click here.