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The face of whooping cough

The face of whooping cough

By Judy Reed

Baby girl Brylinn Palmer contacted whooping cough at 4 weeks old.

Baby girl Brylinn Palmer contacted whooping cough at 4 weeks old.

When Brandi Palmer saw her baby girl, Brylinn, turn blue and go limp in her arms, she was devastated. She thought the once prevalent childhood disease—whooping cough—had won.

“I thought she was dead,” recalled Brandi, holding back the tears.

Brylinn, the daughter of Brandi and Justin Palmer, formerly of Cedar Springs, was born September 1 at Butterworth Hospital. After going home to their house in Belding, she developed cold-like symptoms. She had a lot of phlegm, and was on an apnea machine, and Brandi noticed that the machine went off a lot at night.

On Wednesday, September 29, she took Brylinn to the doctor, and they admitted her to the hospital with a diagnosis of RSV. By that Saturday, however, she wasn’t any better, and her apnea machine kept going off. They ran more tests and diagnosed her with pertussis, or what we know informally as “whooping cough.” She was given antibiotics, as was the rest of the family, and put on oxygen. She later began to lose weight and so an IV and feeding tube were both put in. The family was told she could be there up to 12 weeks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the disease starts out like the common cold, but after one or two weeks, severe coughing begins. Infants and children cough violently and rapidly, until all the air is gone from their lungs and they are forced to inhale with a large whooping sound.

The disease is especially severe in infants. More than half of the babies less than a year old who get it must be hospitalized, and about one in five develop pneumonia. About 1 in 100 die.

That’s what Brandi thought happened to Brylinn. She had been there a couple of weeks when the incident occurred. “I noticed she was struggling to breath,” said Brandi. “She was so exhausted she just didn’t want to breathe.” That’s when she went limp. Hospital personnel rushed in and “bagged” her, and transferred her to ICU. It was a harrowing night. She had six episodes that night of not breathing, and by morning a breathing tube was finally put in. Doctors discovered that she had developed pneumonia.

According to the Centers of Disease Control, there were nearly 17,000 cases of whooping cough in the U.S.,  in 2009, with 14 deaths.  California and Michigan are two states where the number of cases is rising. In Michigan, there were 315 cases in 2008. In 2009, there were 902. By September 30 of this year, Michigan already had 912 cases, more than all of last year.

There has long been a vaccine for whooping cough, and children are required to have it before entering school. The problem is, the vaccine fades after a period of time, and teens and adults then become susceptible again and need a booster dose, but many never get it. It also is not always 100 percent effective. Another reason the disease may be on the rise is that some parents have declined to get the vaccine, under the belief it causes autism.

After several days in ICU, and another round of antibiotics, Brylinn had gotten a little stronger, and was moved back to a

Brandi and Justin Palmer, with son Bryce and baby daughter, Brylinn.

Brandi and Justin Palmer, with son Bryce and baby daughter, Brylinn.

regular room—without the breathing tube, which she had pulled out on her own. But she had forgotten how to eat, and the family had to reteach her.

As of Wednesday, November 3, Brylinn was finally tube-free, and her family was overjoyed to be given the good news that she may go home Thursday. It’s been a long journey for the family, and they are thankful for the many visitors and prayers for Brylinn.

Brandi just had one word of advice for parents. “Make sure you get everyone in your family immunized. It’s not just affecting your kids, it’s affecting everyone they are around,” she said.

And she should know.

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