“Can we keep her forever?” pleaded four-year-old Olivia Hughes as she snuggled with her baby sister Lucy for the first time.
Olivia’s seemingly innocent request ran deeper than simply wanting to take home the gurgling bundle for cuddles and playtime.
Last March, Olivia’s younger brother Riley died at just 32 days from pneumonia-based complications arising from whooping cough.
Amid the tragedy, his parents Catherine and Greg Hughes searched for answers and began researching whooping cough vaccinations. They found that an immunisation during Catherine’s pregnancy could have saved their baby.
“Studies show not only is it safe, but if a mum has a pregnancy vaccination for whooping cough, her baby is 90 per cent less likely to catch this disease," the Perth mother has said. "Unfortunately, it wasn't offered to me … Riley would still probably be here if I had known about whooping cough vaccination in pregnancy.”
The Perth couple has made it their mission to raise awareness of whooping cough and thanks to their relentless lobbying, mothers-to-be in WA are now offered a free jab to protect their newborns against the potentially deadly infection.
Meanwhile, the Hughes welcomed baby Lucy last month, a bittersweet time for the family.
“I cried as we left the hospital – the last time we’d left a hospital, we were leaving a baby behind,” Catherine has said. “Sometimes I stare at [Lucy] and feel guilty that she’s alive and Riley isn’t. I know these aren’t very rational thoughts or feelings, but I just feel so bad that he’s gone.”
But baby Riley will never be forgotten, as the couple continues to fight against vaccine-preventable illnesses in his name.
Speaking to the ABC, said Catherine: “We will keep doing what we can to protect babies from these diseases, which I hope one day will be relegated to the history books."