Heartbroken family hopes son's death from whooping cough will lead to greater awareness

Posted at 7:33 PM, Jul 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-26 22:46:54-04

SAN DIEGO - A grieving father is hoping a personal tragedy will bring greater awareness of the preventable disease that killed his infant son.

For the first time since 2010, whooping cough turned deadly in San Diego County, claiming the life of one-month-old Jaxon Rodgers.

"A lot of tears, sadness and disbelief," said Ty'ree Rodgers, Jaxon's father. "I read stories to her stomach while he was in the womb."

Last month, Jonalyn Lema gave birth to a healthy boy.

"It amazed me every day; I woke up and saw him," said Rodgers.

At 3 weeks old, Jaxon developed a slight cough.

A day later, Rodgers said a clinic doctor told them not to worry. The next day, they brought Jaxon to an emergency room.

The diagnosis was pertussis -- or whooping cough -- a contagious bacterial infection, with the most serious cases affecting infants.

In Jaxon's case, his infection spread quickly.

"After a few days, we were told it didn't look too good," said Rodgers.

His lungs failed, followed his other organs. 5 days after he was admitted, the couple made the wrenching decision to take him off life support.

"Just devastating. It was like the funeral member of a family member times 20," said Rodgers.

Amid the grief, Rodgers is hoping Jaxon's story will help others.

"About a week before he was born is when the nurse and doctor offered the vaccination," said Rodgers.

Lema received the whooping cough vaccine, but Dr. Mark Sawyer at Rady Children's hospital said it's most effective when taken a minimum two weeks before birth.

"It's not always 100 percent so you have to be diligent," said Rodgers.

Sawyer said the vaccine is typically 90 percent effective.

Experts say to make sure anyone who holds your infant is vaccinated, not sick and washes their hands thoroughly.

Rodgers did all of that, but can't help but dwell on every exposure Jaxon had to another person.

Rodgers also advised other parents to not be afraid to take your baby in right away.

"I don't know if it would have made a difference, but the earlier the better when it comes to these things," said Rodgers.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help with expenses, including plans to set up a foundation to increase awareness of whooping cough.