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00:00 When I fell pregnant with Riley, we had just gotten married a couple of months ago and we were looking to complete our family.

00:07 Everything was just plain sailing. Like, we couldn’t have asked for a better experience during pregnancy. We already had a little girl, and we were ready to have a little boy and it felt like the family unit was complete, so it was a really amazing experience.

00:21 Riley was born in February, it was a hot morning and we arrived at the hospital really, really nervous but excited at the same time.

00:29 Every Dad dreams of having a son and I had already made all these grand plans for his whole life; I had mapped it all out. Things we were going to do together. So that day, my whole world felt like it was made. 

00:41 We liked going out for long walks, enjoying the sunshine and going to the river and the beach, just going out as a family of four. It was a beautiful time in our lives.

00:53 He was just a perfect baby, you know. He was just a joy to be around.

00:59 When Riley was three weeks old, he developed what I thought was a cold at the time. A bit of a sneeze, a bit of a runny nose; And because I was breastfeeding, I kind of thought nothing too serious would happen, I thought it would just pass. Um, but then he started to cough and I got a bit nervous and worried about that. So, Greg had just flown in from work and we went straight to hospital. Um, we thought we were being overprotective parents, we thought nothing bad was going to happen, that the doctors would just check him and let us know what virus he had and that he would be fine. But he wasn’t fine.

01:39 And when we ended up taking him to hospital, there is no way we ever imagined at all that we wouldn’t be taking him home with us.

01:46 He was admitted into hospital that day, and a couple of days later, the doctors started getting concerned that he was getting a lot worse and that he may have Whooping Cough. And, I was relieved to have a diagnosis, but I didn’t realise just how deadly Whooping Cough could be in babies as young as Riley. He was only four weeks old at that time. Um, so, Riley was transferred into the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, and things just progressively got worse from there.

When the doctors told us that Riley had Whooping Cough, I was surprised, I didn’t even realise that disease was still a problem in Australia. We had been vaccinated as adults against it, but Riley was too young for his own vaccines. Pretty much as soon as he was diagnosed, he just got worse and worse and we started to notice his cough develop a whoop sound, which it didn’t originally have. 
I thought there was a cure for Whooping Cough. I thought great, we know what it is, they can fix him. But there is no cure for Whooping Cough.

02:58 Um, but to watch your son deteriorate in front of you like that is one of the hardest things you can ever imagine. Really difficult. The image of my son just constantly coughing, coughing and pleading with me with his eyes hooked up to all these monitors. And I couldn’t fix him and I felt to helpless and so, at that moment, worthless as a Dad, because I couldn’t make it right.

03:32 We were called into the family room and informed that we should baptise Riley, and straight away, I just knew, this is it, like they think he is going to die and it was the first time I had really considered that and it just felt like a punch in the stomach and it felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest and I still remember him, you know, holding his hand and him gripping my little finger. But it just got worse and worse and his heart started to shut down from the toxins caused by the whooping cough.

I’ll never forget when they dragged a big arm chair into the Intensive Care room, because that’s when we knew that we had to say goodbye to him.

Doctors gave us his tiny little body, and it was still all covered in the tubes and wires. You know, it was time for him to go. To pass away. And we decided we wanted to hold him and cuddle him. We sung to him and talked to him and made promises to him; all the while I’m going “there is still a chance, there is still a chance”, but it was so final. The monitors just slowly sort of faded away, and we watched him die in front of our eyes, which is something no parent should ever have to experience. 

05:09 You know, there is nothing harder than holding your child and watching their life slip away from them. I would swap places with him in an instant. 

05:25 Young babies are really vulnerable to these types of diseases because we don’t start vaccinations until six to eight weeks. Riley was only four weeks old so he was too young for his own vaccinations, so he sort of relied on protection from our community.
I want all pregnant Mums to know, it’s so important to have a booster when you are pregnant to protect not just you but your baby against Whooping Cough. It can reduce the chance of your baby contracting Whooping Cough by over 90%. It’s so effective and to be able to give your baby the gift of immunity before your baby is even born is a miracle, it’s amazing.

06:04 We believe in the science and the evidence that is there, and you know we are really passionate about getting that message out there. 

06:11 When Riley was laying in our arms, we made promises to him and one of the most important promises that we have really tried to keep is to ensure is that babies have their rights protected, rights to good health and they’re safe from these deadly diseases.

Date published: 
1 November 2019
Video type: 

Greg and Catherine Hughes’ baby son Riley died from whooping cough, a vaccine-preventable disease in 2015, at just four weeks of age.

Through their foundation, Light for Riley, they are determined to prevent this tragedy happening to other families.