Local baby survives 4-month battle with whooping cough

Baby William is now 6 months old and out of the hospital after his bout with whooping cough. »Play Video
Baby William is now 6 months old and out of the hospital, after spending the past four months battling an infection that can not only be deadly but is on the rise in Clark County and areas in Oregon.

PORTLAND, Ore. – It's the first time in months that 6-month-old William has been out of his hospital room. He was just two months old when he started coughing.

"It tends to be a persistent cough, where kids will cough frequently," said Dr. Gary Oxman, a health officer for Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. "It may go on for minutes, then in between coughs they'll have what's called an Inspiratory whoop." (Watch the video of this story to see Dr. Oxman demonstrate the sounds this cough makes.)

And so begins an amazing survival story of a local baby boy, in the hospital for the past four months. His grandpa says the baby died seven times, but on Tuesday William's fight against whooping cough is over ... and he's going home.

The number of whooping cough cases has gradually increased in the United States since the 1980s. In 2005 more than 25,000 cases of whooping cough – scientifically known as pertussis – were reported nationwide. That's the highest number of reported cases since 1959. Thanks to renewed emphasis on vaccinations, in 2009 a total of 17,000 cases of pertussis were reported in the U.S., according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.

About 60 percent of those cases were in adolescents and adults, according to figures from New York's Department of Health.

Members of baby William's family tell us they were going to have their 2 month old vaccinated, but he got sick before they had the chance. Then, for the next four months, they felt desperate watching him fight for his life. 

Now they're just thankful William is alive. And they want others to know how to save their own kids from the same pain.

Baby William's story
William's grandfather Duane Shottenkirk recalls first realizing that William may have this dreaded infection. "My wife would listen to that commercial and hear him, and knew that is what he was coming down with."
But when the boy's grandpa and mother took little William to the doctor, the doctor wouldn't run the whooping cough test.

"We took him to doctor and said 'Run the test' and they actually said 'No, [we] don't need to run test; he's just got a cold," recalls his grandfather. "And three days after that he actually died seven times."

It turned out William did have whooping cough.

After his grandpa resuscitated the baby several times, William was kept alive at Emanuel Hospital on what is known as an ECMO machine, an acronym for the term "extracorporeal membrane oxygenation." It bypasses the heart and lungs to keep someone alive.

Whole-family vaccinations
County health officers say, because of cases like this, they are trying to educate families – and doctors – to recognize the symptoms and understand the dangers of untreated whooping cough. And the need for everyone to get vaccinated.

Babies get the shots at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months, then again at 15 to 18 months. Because it takes those series of shots to  make a baby immune to whooping cough, county health officers say it's important for the baby's family to get vaccinated as well. 

That's "to create a cocoon around the family," Dr. Oxman said, "particularly for young kids ... parents, siblings, grandparents who are in the house. That also helps."

You may be parents of a new baby and have never heard anything like this. Vaccinations for the whole family? Health officers say that's because they're just now starting to educate doctors, as well as patients, on this concept of whole-family preventative treatment.

Indeed, the New York Department of Health reports whooping cough is spread by contact with the nose or throat fluid of infected individuals. It reports that older siblings who are harboring the bacteria in their nose and throat frequently bring the disease home, which then can infect an infant in the household.

William's mom hopes nobody else has to go through this, and says it was her baby's strength and determination that got him through.

"He's a fighter, a miracle child," said Shiela Shottenkirk, William's mom. "I've never heard of anyone surviving stuff like this, and as far as he's actually come."

Related resource:

An ECMO machine, the type of medical device used to keep baby William alive:
An Ecmo machine