Newborn spends 10 days in coma after contracting highly contagious Victorian disease

By Staff 9 Min Read

Polly Deehy had a rattly cough and laboured breathing when she was just two weeks old. She stopped breathing and turned blue just days later having contracted whooping cough

A newborn spent 10 days in a coma after contracting whooping cough.

One-month-old Polly Deehy had a rattly cough and laboured breathing when she was just two weeks old on April 6. After four days coughing at home, the tot had to be rushed to Darrent Valley Hospital, in Dartford, Kent, when she stopped breathing and turned blue.

Just three days later Polly was on a ventilator and in an induced coma, and had been diagnosed with whooping cough, in St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London. Polly is now awake and breathing independently and her mum, Kerry Pearson, 26, says her daughter is lucky to have come through the illness unscathed.

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that generally doesn’t respond to antibiotics. Cases of whooping cough in the UK have risen in the last decade, but had been going down since a vaccine was introduced in the 1950s. Most people make a full recovery but the illness can be fatal for up to three per cent of babies under three months old.

The illness can cause kidney problems and brain damage in babies who survive it. Kerry, a stay-at-home mum, from Bexley, south east London, said: “I’ve never been more relieved in my life. I watched them take the tubes out and turn all the machines off [as she recovered] – it was the best thing ever.

“The odds were not in her favour but she’s been very very lucky. There’s no evidence of any lasting problems but she might have a bit of weakness in her lungs – time will tell. Yesterday we were allowed to hold her for the first time in 10 days – it was the most amazing cuddle.

“This has been an absolute living nightmare. We feel so blessed that she’s such a little fighter. Cases of whooping cough are rising and people need to know what symptoms to look out for.” Kerry and her partner, Jack Deehy, 29, a forklift driver, knew nothing about whooping cough when their baby was diagnosed with the illness in hospital.

Kerry said: “I knew nothing about whooping cough – it was just something from my grandparents’ era. There’s no treatment and no cure – we’re just having to wait and it’s unbearable. If I’d had the vaccine during my pregnancy I’d have passed on the antibodies in my breastmilk.

“The vaccine should be routinely offered with every pregnancy. I just want people to be aware – you should have the whooping cough vaccine when you’re pregnant. If you’re not offered it then please demand it. If you’re an anti-vaxxer please reconsider – this is deadly to infants – it’s not worth the risk.

“Nothing is worth going through what we’re going through.” Kerry had a whooping cough vaccine when she was a child, and again during her pregnancy with her son, now seven. She wasn’t offered the vaccine when pregnant with Polly, she claims. Polly was born on March 26 after an uncomplicated labour and went home with Kerry the same evening.

Kerry started feeling ill with chills, a headache and very rattly cough four days later on March 30. Polly was very congested and got a rattly cough on April 6. Four days later the tot turned blue and stopped breathing, so her terrified mum and dad rushed her to hospital on April 10.

Polly was on a paediatric ward on an oxygen-flow machine, which provided extra oxygen for her to breathe. She was moved to a CPAP machine, which pushed oxygenated air into her lungs. But she kept turning blue as her oxygen levels plummeted, and her breathing kept stopping.

So, Polly was taken to St Mary’s Hospital, on April 13, where she was put on a ventilator in an induced coma. Tests for whooping cough – also known as pertussis – came back positive the next day. Polly was slowly taken off the life-support and is now able to breathe independently.

She was woken from her coma on April 22, and came out of the intensive care unit on April 24. She’s still coughing, having the odd episode where she turns blue and is having to be revived, but medics are confident she can go onto a paediatric ward soon, Kerry says.

“We caught it in time so she was in hospital, but if she’d had those blue episodes at home she’d have suffered lasting damage because of the lack of oxygen,” she added. Whooping cough lasts about six weeks – it begins with cold-like symptoms of a runny nose which are followed by bouts of intense coughing with a characteristic sound which gives the illness its name.

Kerry said: “We need to educate people about the vaccine and the symptoms. Whooping cough is dangerous to newborns and I want people to know what to look out for.”

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