real life

A well deserved award for the mother of Riley Hughes.

In tragedy we like to look for the brief moments of joy, the brief moments of meaning. We hope that something good comes from the loss.

That’s why this news is one we wish to celebrate and one we wish to share.

Earlier this year our hearts broke with the devastating news a family had lost a four week old baby to whooping cough.

38-day old Riley Hughes, from Perth, a picture of newborn perfection,  tragically passed away after contracting whooping cough in March.

Riley and his mother Catherine. Via Light for Riley.

His parents' Catherine and Greg were understandably shocked and devastated that whooping cough could kill a newborn baby and parents across Australia stopped and wondered just how this could occur.

We learnt that Riley was too young to be immunised against the pertussis bacteria at just four weeks old and when he died in hospital a few days after developing a slight cough his mother was told that if she had have had the pertussis vaccine in her last trimester of pregnancy his death may have been preventable.

But no doctor told Catherine Hughes of the vaccine.

At the time Catherine Hughes, wading through the grief and horror of losing her precious son, took the time to speak out, desperately wanting no other family to go through what they did.

In the days after his death the family graciously allowed his story to be shared writing on Facebook that "Long term we’d ideally like to be the drivers of change within this country surrounding the treatment, management and long term eradication of this horrific disease."

Seven month on they have achieved their aim.

Seven months on Catherine Hughes has been named as a finalist to become WA’s Young Australian of the Year 2016.

"As Riley lay dying in our arms, we knew that it wasn’t right ... we chose to do something about it,” she said when she received her award.

“In Australia in 2015, children should not be dying from vaccine-preventable disease.”

Riley was four weeks old when he died. Via Light for Riley.

In the months after Riley's death the Hughes family become avid supporters of vaccinations, and started a Facebook page called “Light For Riley” to raise awareness.

In just seven months they have had a program approved that sees 2500 mothers-to-be in Western Australia become eligible for a free whooping cough vaccination, and now every state and territory in Australia has implemented free booster shots for pregnant women.

Mrs Hughes has met politicians right across the county to campaign for greater awareness for whooping cough and raised more than $70,000 for whooping cough research.


She recently even started a campaign for the donation of 45,000 vaccines to UNICEF.

Catherine and her husband Greg speak about their work. Post continues after video.

On the weekend her drive and dedication to the cause was recognised with Catherine Hughes being named in a ceremony as a finalist to become WA’s Young Australian of the Year 2016.

She told The West Australian “I think the sadness behind his story is the fact it was preventable,”

“It didn’t have to happen and people can imagine it happening to their own children.

“Basically, we were just in so much grief at the time, but that grief was coupled with a realisation that this should not be happening in Australia in 2015, that it’s really unacceptable that children and babies get vaccine-preventable diseases.

“It really motivated us to keep campaigning."

Catherine Hughes and Riley. Via Light for Riley.

On their Facebook page they humbly thanked the public for their support:

Thank you so much for all the kind words & messages of support. The award is dedicated to Riley and all the other children who have needlessly lost their lives to vaccine preventable diseases. 

It was a very surreal and humbling experience to be in a room filled with such distinguished and compassionate people. A day of very mixed emotions!

In a country as lucky as Australia, our children should not be dying from diseases that are preventable by vaccines. Along with my husband who is a huge part of what we do, we will keep advocating immunisation & raising awareness about these terrible diseases to protect other families from experiencing what we have this year.

“When something bad happens you have to search for some silver lining." Catherine told The West Australian.

“If we can help other children, that’s our silver lining.”

Catherine Hughes now goes on to join recipients from other states and territories as finalists in the national awards to be announced on January 25 in Canberra and continues to raise awareness  to prevent other babies lives being lost.

Congratulations Catherine. Hundreds of babies owe their lives to you.

You can follow Light for Riley here.