The heartbreaking words of Riley's dad, who lost his beautiful baby to whooping cough.

A grieving parent has shared the agony of his son’s passing, in the hopes no-one else has to lose their baby this way.

Warning: This post deals with graphic details of a baby’s death and may be distressing for some readers.

The little boy in this photograph is Riley Hughes. Riley was only 32 days old when he lost his life to whooping cough.

The tiny Perth boy passed away on March 17 at Princess Margaret Hospital. He was in his parents’ arms.

Since his death, Riley’s family have founded a Facebook page to remember their son, and to raise awareness of what a devastating illness whooping cough can be, how it can destroy a family who should be treasuring their first days as new parents, not grieving for the tiny boy who had to fight so hard.

Today, Riley’s father Greg has shared a confronting photo of his son in hospital, and a brutal account of his final hours.

It is impossible to read this and not be moved, and to not recognise we need to do absolutely everything we can to try to eradicate this preventable disease.

The heartbreaking image shows Riley 24 hours before his death, with a cannula in each arm and a breathing tube in his nostrils.

Riley, just 24 hours before his death. (Photo: Facebook)

“At this point in time I was still having to deal with listening to his hoarse crying because he’d screamed for so long from sheer discomfort that he’d begun losing his tiny little voice,” Mr Hughes wrote in the post.

“Every time he caught my eyes he would stop screaming momentarily and look at me with his incredible blue eyes, almost urging me to remove this anguish that befell him.

“As a father, I felt like a failure. I would have swapped places in a heartbeat.”

A Facebook post by Riley’s mother, Catherine Hughes.


Mr Hughes explained that although the photograph is confronting, it’s “relatively tame in comparison with the downhill slide I witnessed in the 24 hours that followed it”.

“My son began retaining fluid and his body swelled to a point that I wouldn’t have recognised him had I not witnessed it first hand,” he said.

“His white blood cell count was exceedingly high, he developed complications arising from Pneumonia, his heart rate consistently sat in excess of 250 beats per minute, he wound up having lines inserted in both sides of his groin, further cannulation in his feet and ventilation across two separate machines.”

Riley. (Photo: Facebook)


Mr Hughes and his wife Catherine are now raising funds to fight preventable childhood diseases like pertussis (whooping cough). And he and his wife are fighting hard to raise awareness of vaccinations, with posts like these:

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“Pertussis is a devastating disease but with your continued support we promise to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. We will do everything in our power to eradicate Pertussis from the community,” says Greg.

We salute the Hughes’ family’s bravery. And we stand with them in remembering Riley with action.


You can support the Hughes family’s campaign here. 

And you can leave a message of support for the family, below.