Catherine Hughes tends to keep memories of her son, Riley, locked away, to protect herself from the grief.
“He was a good little breast feeder, I remember that. And he had beautiful, soft, blonde hair. And his eyes would gaze up at you as you fed him, or cuddled with him,” Catherine told Mamamia.
“And I remember sometimes we’d make the bed in the middle of the afternoon, and we’d have him in there with our daughter, and we’d just have a family snuggle. That was really, really lovely.”
Riley died on March 17, 2015, just one and a half days after being admitted to intensive care with whooping cough.
The Western Australian boy had only entered the world 32 days earlier, but he did so into a family that would turn his short life and their immense pain into a mission to spare others.
The Light for Riley Project and the Immunisation Foundation of Australia now consume the time Catherine and Greg Hughes would have been spending with their son. Whatever spare moments they can find between work and raising their daughters, aged five and one, are spent researching immunisation, tracking statistics and innovations around Australia and the world.
“Obviously we’d do anything we could to have Riley back in our arms,” Catherine said. “But this is the silver lining, this is finding something good in something that was so tragic for our family.”
At just four weeks old, Riley was too young to be vaccinated. A month shy of his early vaccinations due under the National Immunisation Program Schedule, he was vulnerable. When his nose began to run and a little cough started, Catherine and Greg took him to Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth, just in case.
He never left.
"In moments of extreme tragedy or grief, your mind snapshots some of the most inane things," Greg said. "I think back to that time and I can remember the sounds that the machines made, and I can remember the smell of the room, and the layout of the room and everything that was in there. There are elements of it that I try not to think about too much, because if I do I'll go off the deep end. But the intensive care process, I can pretty much recall minute by minute what went down there."