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Local woman on a mission to educate people about dangers of whooping cough five years after daughter dies from illness

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Kaitlyn Webster showing photos of her daughter Hailey Bruley. Kaitlyn Webster showing photos of her daughter Hailey Bruley.

MADISON (WKOW) --- At a time of year when illness spreads quickly -- a mother in Watertown still grieving the loss of her daughter wants to raise awareness about whooping cough.

Kaitlyn Webster's daughter -- Hailey Bruley -- was just two weeks old when she started developing a cough.

“I told her doctor right away. And I kind of thought it was just a cold. Because it was during the winter and stuff like that and that's common. My doctor kind of just told me to keep an eye on it. If it got worse to let her know,” Webster said.

But Hailey's condition deteriorated.

“It eventually start progressing into worse and worse. Until she was finally diagnosed with whooping cough,” Webster said.

Just a few weeks later, Hailey died from the illness.

“She was put on the antibiotics that you get for it. But it didn’t end up helping. It was heartbreaking because there was nothing I could do to help her,” Webster said.

Since her death five years ago -- Webster has made it her mission to raise awareness about the dangers of whooping cough -- or otherwise known as pertussis.

“I didn’t even know what whooping cough was when she was diagnosed with it. The only thing I knew that it was deadly,” Webster said.

“A lot of people don’t know about whooping cough. And a lot of people don’t know a lot about vaccines and the truth about vaccines. So it’s kind of my mission to educate people on all of this. To show how dangerous whooping cough is and how alive and well it’s thriving.”

Kate Louther -- with Public Health Madison & Dane County -- said whooping cough is an airborne bacteria that can be deadly to infants.

“It’s respiratory. So it’s spread by coughing or sneezing. That's how people can get it.” Louther said. She said pertussis starts with kind of cold like symptoms like runny nose, cough, low-grade fever. So it really kind of looks like a typical cold or cough,” Louther said. “Infant don't necessarily have the strongest immune system. They don't have the antibodies to fight pertussis like older adults and children who have been vaccinated.”

“Typically we see a lot of younger children, school-age children. And typically it because they’re interacting with one another. So they’re close together in classrooms or sports or things like that. So more often we see it in children. But it can affect anybody at any age. That’s why we recommend basically anybody to get vaccinated with the TDap vaccine.

Dane County reported six confirmed or probable cases last year. And a school district in northern Wisconsin recently reported six confirmed cases.

Louther said the illness is most common during the winter months.

“We see it all over the country. So typically we see it more often in the winter. But it can happen any point in time during the year. Back in 2012 we actually had an outbreak of it and it continued into the summer months. Which is kind of a typical. We kind of see more respiratory illnesses in the fall and winter. But with this can happen at any point in the year. And… So yes it does happen here. And we often see it more typically in the winter months.”

She said antibiotics are available to treat whooping cough.

“You can treat pertussis with antibiotics that can kind of short and make the symptoms less of you. So we can shorten the course of the illness and make the symptoms go away quicker,” Louther said.

Webster isn't sure how Hailey caught the deadly illness.

“Unless you know someone who had it that she was in contact with, there's no way of really figuring out where she got it from.”

But said even if she can help one child, it's worth the fight.

“I feel like I’m doing my part in being Hailey's voice so that it doesn't happen to anyone else.”

Webster wants to start a charity in memory of her daughter Hailey to educate people on whooping cough. She also wants to begin a support group for parents with children diagnosed with the illness.

If you don’t know if you’ve been vaccinated for TDap, go to the Wisconsin Immunization Registry. It’s an online registry that keeps track of vaccines in the state. Alternatively, you can check with your healthcare provider.

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