Whooping cough: Mum with “immense guilt” over brain damaged son urges others to get vaccinated

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A mum who feels ‘immense guilt’ after passing whooping cough onto her son leaving him brain damaged is urging people to get vaccinated

A mum has urged expectant mothers to get themselves vaccinated after she inadvertently passed whooping cough onto her newborn son leaving him him brain damaged. Mel Jewell says she feels “immense guilt” towards her son every day, claiming she was never offered the vaccine during her pregnancy - resulting in her son suffering from whooping cough at just two weeks old in 2002.

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes that can spread very easily and cause serious problems. Dubbed the 100-day cough - the UK currently has nearly 3,000 confirmed cases of whooping cough and five babies have already died this year.

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The whooping cough vaccination is recommended for all pregnant women, ideally between 16 and 32 weeks pregnant. However, Mel says she was not offered a vaccination against the disease and subsequently caught whooping cough while eight months pregnant. Sadly the NHS scheme to offer the jab to mums-to-be wasn't introduced until a decade after her son's birth.  

Mel, 48, said her son, now 21, cannot live independently, has the reading age of a five-year-old and is unable to perform simple tasks like using a microwave. However, the mum-of-four is determined to raise awareness of the vaccine, saying she would have got it at the time had she been offered it.

Mel Jewell says she feels “immense guilt” towards her son every day, claiming she was never offered the vaccine during her pregnancy (Kennedy News and Media)Mel Jewell says she feels “immense guilt” towards her son every day, claiming she was never offered the vaccine during her pregnancy (Kennedy News and Media)
Mel Jewell says she feels “immense guilt” towards her son every day, claiming she was never offered the vaccine during her pregnancy (Kennedy News and Media)

Doctors believe Ewan contracted the disease shortly after he was born, resulting in him being placed on life support after his brain was starved of oxygen. Despite Mel making funeral arrangements, Ewan made a miraculous recovery but is still suffering the effects of the disease today.

The mum-of-four said: "It felt awful. When you've carried a baby for nine months and you're suddenly told you're likely to lose your child. I was thinking 'how am I going to tell my two other children that their little baby brother was going to die?' I was planning his funeral, in my head, like what he was going to wear, which is a bit crazy. I wonder if I could have lived knowing my child had died because of me. It was like a dream really, I kept expecting to wake up."

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The infection caused Ewan to stop breathing 'several times' for up to 15 minutes, starving his brain of oxygen and forcing doctors to place him on a life support machine at Southampton General Hospital. A few days after being placed on life support, Ewan was then air-lifted to Leicester, where he received a treatment that involves a machine effectively replacing the work of the heart and lungs by sending oxygen to depleted tissue.

Mel and her son, Ewan (Kennedy News and Media)Mel and her son, Ewan (Kennedy News and Media)
Mel and her son, Ewan (Kennedy News and Media)

Mel said: "They gave him loads and loads of drugs, just to keep him alive. When we got to Leicester, they said to us that 'he will have some form of brain damage because of the amount of times he'd stopped breathing and all the drugs he was given to keep him alive'. They said he could be severely brain damaged and, in a wheelchair, unable to speak."

The situation then went from bad to worse as Mel recounts how she, and the rest of Ewan's family, were told to 'say goodbye to him' and prepare funeral arrangements. Ewan eventually recovered enough to return home at three months old thanks to his birth weight of 9lbs11oz. The ordeal caused him to drop nearly a pound of weight that doctors said a smaller baby couldn't have afforded to lose.

His mum then ensured he had all the regular jabs and boosters that she was offered. Now, Mel urges other parents to get their vaccinations, decades on from nearly losing her son.

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 Mel said: "I cried, when I heard the news that five babies had died this year from it. To think there are parents going through what we went through, it's unnecessary. I don't think people are aware of how badly it can affect you.

 "Yesterday, I got a post from a friend that said, 'if you've got whooping cough, have an onion drink and that will get rid of it', I couldn't believe that was supposed to be a remedy. Just get vaccinated. The guilt: I feel so, so guilty. Every time Ewan annoys me, or is upset, I think 'I've done this to my child; he's brain damaged because of me'. I wouldn't want any other mother to go through this."

According to the UK government website, whooping cough is a serious disease that can lead to pneumonia and permanent brain damage. Young babies are particularly at risk of serious disease and they remain vulnerable until they can be vaccinated against whooping cough from two months of age.

The government advises that expectant mothers protect their unborn baby by having the whooping cough vaccination whilst pregnant, and describes the jab as 'very effective' in protecting newborns against the disease.

The site states that pregnant women may be offered the whooping cough vaccine after their mid-pregnancy scan and should ask their midwife or GP if they have not been offered the jab.

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