Whooping cough kills about 250,000 children worldwide each year. And it is preventable by vaccination.
Catherine and Greg Hughes had been expecting a very different festive season this year.
In their minds, they and their four-year-old daughter, Olivia, would be basking in their baby boy Riley’s first Christmas.
He would have been 10 months old. Perhaps crawling around and trying to hoist himself up to pluck decorations off the Christmas tree. Having the obligatory photo with a shopping centre Santa Claus. Or smiling in a Santa hat for a happy snap posted on Facebook by his parents.
Instead, Christmas Day will be a tough reminder for the young family of the gaping hole left by Riley’s death at just 32 days old.
Whooping cough stole Riley’s life and shattered those of his family members in March this year.
Since the cruel blow, his parents have been fighting tirelessly for increased awareness around immunisation through their Light for Riley campaign.
Their efforts have prompted the WA Government to introduce a pregnancy vaccination program, reducing the risk of a baby contracting the disease by 90 per cent. They encouraged the donation of almost 50,000 vaccines when Riley would have been six months old. They raise more than $74,000 for whooping cough research.
Scroll through to the beautiful images of Riley and his family. (Post continues after gallery.)
And now, they have donated vaccines to UNICEF Australia in memory of their beautiful boy and on behalf of their daughter – and they’re appealing for others to do the same.
“People seemed genuinely shocked that a child in Australia had died from this disease. And it is shocking – it’s a death that could have been prevented, had I been informed by my health care providers about the option of pregnancy vaccination for whooping cough, which has been recommended in Australia for more than two years now (although only became free, and therefore promoted, after Riley’s death).
What’s most shocking to me, though, is that there are two million ‘Rileys’ every year – two million other babies or young children around the world who die from whooping cough or other vaccine-preventable diseases. That’s millions of parents each year, who watch their children die from something that could have been easily prevented – if only they had access to vaccination. And that is not OK with me.
Ever since Riley died, we wanted to make a difference in his honour. We are not alone with those feelings – there are many wonderful parent advocates out there who feel like it is their duty to help protect others after their child died from preventable causes, such as pool drownings or household accidents. I guess this is just us trying to do our bit. I feel like we failed to protect him, but if we can protect other children then perhaps some good has come out of something so awful.
This Christmas, we committed to purchasing one less plastic toy that would probably roll under the couch and be forgotten about, and instead purchased 200 vaccines on behalf of Riley and our daughter Olivia. We think that by donating vaccines in honour of our children, we are not only protecting the lives of other children, we are helping to eliminate diseases from the world – maybe that will be a gift to our children’s children.”
So far, the Hughes’ drive has resulted in more than 17,650 vaccines (including 12,400 polio and 5,250 measles vaccines) have been donated in Riley’s name – a donation to the tune of $6,627.
You donate 200 polio vaccines to UNICEF Australia for $46 (for as little as 25c per vaccine) or 150 measles vaccines for $70 by visiting the UNICEF website.