BY DJ MANOU, WSBT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CIRCA via WSBT) — It's been nine years since a family lost their newborn daughter to whooping cough.
Their mission to spread awareness about vaccinations continues, one hat at a time.
Mother Katie VanTornHout started Callie Cares in 2011. She's been sending toiletry bags to parents in hospitals to help, but now she's sending handmade hats.
The family is trying to help while sharing their daughter's story. Callie was born on Christmas Eve 2009. Twelve days later, she came home. Two weeks later, she developed a cough and was gone.
“She was 37 days old," said VanTornHout. "We were still getting 'Congrats it’s a girl cards' in the mail as well as we are 'Sorry she is gone' cards."
VanTornHout says she died from whooping cough, which was contracted from a nurse that was not up-to-date on vaccinations.
A cabinet holds memories of Callie, but VanTornHout decided to use her loss as a way to help.
Since 2011, she's been sending bags full of toiletries to parents in the hospital with a newborn or sick child.
"If you get one of our bags, you can brush your teeth, kind of feel fresh, take a shower just because you don’t want to leave your child,” said VanTornHout.
More than 10,000 bags later, she's grown into something new — making hats for newborns.
"It keeps them warm, and it’s a tender touch,” said VanTornHout.
It's a tender touch that Callie's hat still gives the family.
"It’s a comfort thing because that kid is not there anymore," said VanTornHout.
Speaking in front of Congress, she has fought to make all caregivers be vaccinated since newborns can't be vaccinated. Recent outbreaks of measles throughout the country have her scared and angry.
"These kids that are getting measles and mumps — they can die from this," said VanTornHout. "I don’t want to see a parent that has to bury their child."
VanTornHout is hoping her personal tragedy can help bring awareness to her fight for vaccinations.
"It’s not about me anymore," said VanTornHout. "It’s about you and your kid and the chance to save them from somebody else who may be carrying something unknowingly and affect your child."
VanTornHout says the bill to make all caregivers vaccinated stalled in Congress once before, but she's hoping to make a push again. She's supposed to meet with the U.S. Surgeon General later this year.
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