Baby Callie was a miracle baby to Katie and Craig VanTourhout of South Bend, Ind. After four miscarriages, Katie VanTourhout got pregnant again in 2009 and this time it was a success.
It was an easy, healthy pregnancy, VanTourhout said her doctors told her. Her doctor made sure she had flu shots, she said. And then, six weeks before she was due, Callie Grace was born on Christmas Day.
"Once they said we were in the clear, we jumped for joy and we were just giddy all the time," VanTourhout said.
But when Callie was a couple weeks old, she developed a cough, so the VanTourhouts checked in with their pediatrician.
Although Katie VanTourhout said doctors told them it was nothing too serious, the cough persisted, and during a return visit to the doctor, Callie stopped breathing and was rushed to the hospital.
Two days later, at 38 days old, Callie stopped breathing again and could not be saved.
Callie somehow caught a highly contagious bacterial disease called pertussis, better known as whooping cough. While many believe that the disease is relatively rare in the United States, especially after the introduction of the vaccine in the 1940s, cases of whooping cough rose steadily from the 1980s to 2005, especially among teens and babies less than 6 months old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2008 there were more than 13,000 cases of whooping cough, 18 of which were fatal, in the United States, according to the CDC. The most common complication associated with whooping cough is bacterial pneumonia.
"If we looked carefully enough we'd find pertussis in all age groups, but it's more serious in infants with smaller passageways," said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chief of pediatric infectious disease at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.
However, a schedule of vaccines could significantly reduce the amount of cases, she said. The CDC recommends five doses of DTaP, or tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine by age seven.
But while Callie was too young to receive the vaccine, family members and those around Callie should have been immunized. Transmission by adults who are not vaccinated themselves or who have not recieved the recommended booster shot is responsible for most pertussis cases among babies. In fact, half of babies with pertussis are infected by their parents.
While it is uncertain whether whooping cough was transmitted from Katie VanTourhout to Callie, Katie VanTourhout said she never received Tdap -- the adult recommended booster shot -- before her pregnancy and was not offered the vaccine postpartum.
"We had no idea what the whooping cough vaccination was, that they wanted mothers to have," VanTourhout said. "Nobody mentioned it to us, nobody brought it up to us, nobody talked about it. We honestly had no clue."
While most adults and teens were vaccinated against pertussis as children, immunity against the disease decreases over time. The CDC recommends that adolescents and all adults aged 19 to 64, particularly those who have close contact with a young baby, should be immunized with a single Tdap booster vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
"Pregnant women can get vaccinated," Maldonado said. "And if a mother doesn't get it before she gets pregnant, then she should get it postpartum."