Baby Riley's dad: 'I would have swapped places in a heartbeat'

Baby Riley passed away at 32 days.
Baby Riley passed away at 32 days.  Photo: Facebook

It is a photograph no parent ever wants to take of their baby - in hospital hooked up to machines, breathing through tubes and fighting for their life at just four weeks old.

But grieving dad Greg Hughes has shared the heartbreaking picture of his son Riley in the hope it will help others understand the "horrific nature" of the disease which claimed the newborn's life last month.

"I wanted to give you all an insight into the horrific nature of pertussis": Riley's dad
"I wanted to give you all an insight into the horrific nature of pertussis": Riley's dad Photo: Facebook

Mr Hughes posted the picture which was taken 24 hours before Riley died from pertussis, or whooping cough, on a Facebook page dedicated to his son's memory.

"At this time Riley was cannulated in both arms, he was required to wear a skull cap to ensure the breathing tubes stayed in his nostrils and we had to place socks on his hands as he continued to struggle in trying to rip out his breathing tubes as they caused him great discomfort," he wrote.

"At this point in time I was still having to deal with listening to his hoarse crying because he'd screamed for so long from sheer discomfort that he'd begun losing his tiny little voice. Every time he caught my eyes he would stop screaming momentarily and look at me with his incredible blue eyes, almost urging me to remove this anguish that befell him.

"As a father, I felt like a failure. I would have swapped places in a heartbeat.

"I've elected to post this photograph as it's relatively tame in comparison with the downhill slide I witnessed in the 24 hours that followed it.

"My son began retaining fluid and his body swelled to a point that I wouldn't have recognised him had I not witnessed it first hand.

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"His white blood cell count was exceedingly high, he developed complications arising from Pneumonia, his heart rate consistently sat in excess of 250 beats per minute, he wound up having lines inserted in both sides of his groin, further cannulation in his feet and ventilation across two separate machines. I was staggered at the sheer volume of mucous that was clogging my beautiful boys lungs.

"I'll never forget that when his body had shut down it took his wonderful nurse close to 10 minutes real time to remove all the lines, tubes and pipes that now called his tiny body home.

"Pertussis is a devastating disease but with your continued support we promise to fight for those who can't fight for themselves. We will do everything in our power to eradicate Pertussis from the community."

Riley passed away at Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth on March 17. He was just 32 days old and too young to be vaccinated against whooping cough. His death was the fifth from whooping cough in WA since 2008.

Mr Hughes and his wife Catherine are desperate for their son's death to not be in vain. They are sharing details of their family's tragic loss in the hope of raising awareness of the importance of vaccination and booster shots for all people who have any contact with babies.

The Light for Riley Facebook page has attracted more than 65,000 followers and an Everyday Hero fundraising page has received more than $43,000 in donations which will go to help sick children in Princess Margaret Hospital.

Riley's story has touched hearts across the country with countless strangers sending the family messages of support.

"This is a donation on behalf of my 4 month old daughter in lieu of an easter gift. I cannot even imagine your heartbreak so I thank you for your strength in creating awareness," one supporter wrote along with her donation.