Thirteen years ago, Jack Godefroy became ill with whooping cough. At just seven weeks old, he nearly died.
“It was awful. He couldn’t breathe,” Jack’s mother Cheryl Godefroy said. The memory of that time still brings the Canmore mom to tears.
“I will never forget it — they had to suck out his lungs. A seven-week-old baby and they had to suck out his lungs just so he could breathe.”
Godefroy says her son spent 22 terrifying days in hospital, fighting to survive an infection that can be fatal for babies.
“Children can still die from pertussis (whooping cough) even in the care of a physician. We were certainly told that when Jack was in the oxygen tent and going through that process,” said Mark Godefroy, Jack’s dad.
Watch below: Alberta Health Services medical officer of health Dr. Judy Macdonald joins Global Calgary to discuss the importance of diagnosing whooping cough early.
It’s what health officials in southern Alberta are most afraid of as an outbreak of whooping cough continues more than a month after it was first declared. There are 168 cases now connected to the outbreak in the south zone, while there have been 394 cases so far this year province-wide.
“We have had infants in the past who have died (from whooping cough) at a very young age, so that’s what we’re hoping to avoid with all of this — we want to protect those most vulnerable,” said Dr. Karin Goodison, Alberta Health Services Medical Officer of Health for the south zone.
The best protection against whooping cough is immunization, but in pockets around the province, Goodison says vaccination rates are very low. As a result, outbreaks of diseases like whooping cough, measles and mumps have become common.
“Once it starts in that area, we get a large number of cases in high concentration and that’s when we get an impact on our immunized populations.”
It’s a frightening situation for the Godefroys, not only because of what their son went though, but because of what he’s dealing with now. For the last two years, Jack has been undergoing treatment for leukemia. With a compromised immune system, the now 13-year-old is again in a position where a disease like whooping cough could threaten his life.
“I understand there are different viewpoints and I’m usually very tolerant of people’s choices,” Cheryl said.
“But having been a mother to a child that’s been in the hospital a couple times fighting for their life — knowing an immunization could help prevent that — I don’t understand why people don’t take that and protect themselves and others.”