Riley was just four weeks old when he died from whooping cough on Tuesday.

The tragic death of a newborn baby from whooping cough has once again shone the light on the importance of vaccines. His is a story his parents want you to share.

Four-week-old Riley John Hughes gazes at the camera with those deep, knowing eyes that newborns have. A creamy, milky, newborn, perfect.

It is difficult to comprehend that this beautiful boy died on Tuesday in the arms of his loving family.

Riley Hughes passed away Wednesday.

The death of a child is always hard to read about. You simply cannot comprehend the pain of his family, you can’t imagine their reality, and yet, as difficult as it is, theirs is a story they are willing to share because they don’t want this to ever happen to another family again.

32-day old Riley died in the arms of his parents, Greg and Catherine Hughes from complications arising from whooping cough.

Riley, who was born on February 13 had been fighting the contagious disease at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth.

His mother Catherine broke the tragic news in a public Facebook post writing “We are devastated to let everyone know our gorgeous sweet month-old son Riley John Hughes lost his battle with whooping cough at Princess Margaret Hospital earlier today. He passed away peacefully in our arms after a tough fight. The staff at PMH were amazing and did everything they could to save his little life but the whooping cough was too severe. RIP Riley. Forever in our hearts.”

His father, Greg posting “RIP to my darling little angel Riley, cruelly cut down before his life had an opportunity to start,”

“Riley passed away peacefully in the arms of his mummy and daddy at 14:00 today, aged just 32 days – a result of pneumonia based complications arising from whooping cough.

“I’m an absolute shell of a man without my baby boy and I’m truly not sure how I’ll cope, but I ask that you please respect the privacy of myself, Catherine and our family during this extremely arduous time.”

Riley’s mum Catherine Hughes told Mamamia that the first symptoms Riley exhibited were only one week earlier. She said he had a slight cough on Wednesday 11th March, but the doctor thought he was fine when called to the house. Two days later the family took him to the Princess Margaret Hospital.

Riley struggling with whooping cough.

On March 15th she posted on her Facebook page “If you haven’t been immunised against whooping cough (pertussis) please consider getting it done. Heartbreaking to watch 4 week old Riley struggle with it.”

Mrs Hughes told Mamamia that Riley “got progressively worse with pertussis, developed pneumonia and passed away from heart failure yesterday.”


In a selfless act the family have allowed media to share their posts – and after being inundated with condolences and offers of support from the public established a Facebook page where a focus upon awareness about whopping cough can grow.

Greg Hughes wrote on the page “In the short term we’ll use this as a vessel for people to contact us regarding the passing of our son and a way to manage the significant interest that his passing has attracted,”

“We’ve had many people contact us regarding donations and information on how they can help our cause – your heartfelt support is humbling and graciously received. We’ll update in the coming days on exactly how you can help.

“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. We invite you to share this page with anyone and everyone.

“There are no words to express how much your support during this difficult period means to us.”

At 32 days old Riley was not yet old enough for the whooping cough vaccine. The first dose of the vaccine is given at two months. Mrs Hughes told Mamamia that his whole family are immunised and they had even asked that their friends and families had their booster.

Riley’s family were all fully vaccinated.

Health officials have told the ABC that they do not know how Riley contracted the disease.

Selflessly Catherine Hughes, in this difficult time, praised the staff at the Princess Margaret Hospital saying they were wonderful, and that the family could not be more grateful.

According to the Department of Health whopping cough is “most serious in babies under the age of 12 months. Babies are at greatest risk of infection until they can have at least two doses of the vaccine (minimum 4 months old) as the mother’s antibodies do not provide reliable protection.”

Related content: “I once forgot my daughter’s name.

Worldwide whooping cough – a preventable disease by vaccination – kills about 250,000 children each year 18 deaths were recorded in Australia between 1993 and 2004, of these all but two were babies under 12 months old.

In Western Australia there have been 244 cases of whooping cough so far this year.

There are no words to express just how tragic the death of Riley is, but what absolutely must come out of this loss is what his family now demand – more awareness and change so, as Riley’s Dad Greg writes “ no other family has to undergo the significant anguish our family is currently experiencing at the hands of whooping cough”.

To support Catherine and Greg Hughes’s Facebook page Light for Riley go here. 

Whooping cough facts (from

Pertussis (whooping cough) is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.

The disease is highly infectious and most serious in babies under the age of 12 months.

Babies are at greatest risk of infection until they can have at least two doses of the vaccine (minimum 4 months old) as the mother’s antibodies do not provide reliable protection.

It is spread through droplets in the air and it can develop from upper respiratory tract (nose, throat and windpipe) infections into pertussis pneumonia (lung infection).

It takes between 7 to 20 days for symptoms of this disease to show after infection. Symptoms include coughing and “whooping”, which can continue for a few months.

Complications of the disease include hypoxic encephalopathy (lack of oxygen to the brain) leading to brain damage and possibly death.

Pertussis is a vaccine preventable disease.

Pertussis vaccination is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation.

It is listed on the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule and funded for children under the Immunise Australia Program.

Doses of vaccine are given at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, with booster doses at 4 years and 10-15 years.

The whooping cough vaccine is a free vaccine.