Losing a baby to whooping cough

Editorial Team

Editorial Team

March 25th, 2015

Editorial Team

‘Baby Kaliah was born in good health. Early in her short life she picked up the bacterial infection that causes pertussis (whooping cough). 27 days after her birth, Kaliah’s mother said goodbye.’


Read: Pertussis – pass on protection

Chelsey Charles was besotted with her new-born baby girl, Kaliah. Like any new mother, she wanted to hold her child and was delighted when the time came to take her home from the maternity hospital.

Chelsey had a cough that week which got worse after the birth but little Kaliah seemed fine. During her second week, Kaliah started to sneeze a little.

Her mother checked online and, amongst other things, found that whooping cough was a possibility, although Kaliah did not have a cough at that point and was not particularly ill. Chelsey took her baby to the clinicfor a check-up and things appeared to be okay.

Just days later, Kaliah had developed a cough and was rushed to hospital. She was put on a ventilator, had a blood transplant and, shortly afterwards, a seizure.

Despite the efforts of hospital staff, Kaliah’s condition did not improve. Chelsey was told that her daughter might not make it. “I just went numb at that point,” she says.

After a few more days, doctors asked Chelsey to decide how she would like to ‘let Kaliah go’. Chelsey wanted to hold her baby girl and say goodbye. Then the life support system was shut down. Kaliah tried to take a breath but soon she was gone.


Kaliah’s story is rare but not rare enough. New babies like Kaliah are very vulnerable to pertussis infection in the early days of their lives and are too young to have the pertussis vaccine.

Pertussis vaccination is recommended for pregnant women by the WHO as protection can be passed on to the baby before they are born. This improves their chances of fending off infection in their early weeks and also reduces the risk that their mother will be infected.

Watch some young mothers discuss pertussis vaccination during pregnancy.

Sadly, Kaliah’s story is not an isolated case. Regular readers might recall our interview with Danny Darche whose daughter, Lore, died from pertussis after just 83 days of life.

Danny, like Chelsey, shares his story in the hope of sparing others the heartache he and his family had to endure.

Read: A parent’s story: ‘Our tragedy could have been avoided’