For Katie and Craig Van Tornhout, buying a house and starting a family was their dream. They bought that dream house in 2004, but were plagued with four emotional miscarriages in five years. That was until Memorial Day 2009 when the Van Tornhout's learned Katie was pregnant.
"It was a dream come true. We were complete,” Katie Van Tornhout said with her husband Craig at her side. "We were ecstatic. I mean we wanted to jump for joy when we found out we were pregnant with her,” Katie added.
After years of failed doctor visits and ineffective medication, Katie and Craig were hopeful this baby would make it to birth.
"It took us a lot to get our miracle. In the end, she was six weeks early to the day; our little Christmas Eve miracle,” Katie said.
So as most people prepared to open presents from under a tree, the Van Tornhout’s were delivering the gift of life to earn the titles, mom and dad.
"When I saw Craig’s tears flowing, then mine started. Then you hear her cry for the first time and you're like, ‘that's my baby.’ It's something we wanted for a really long time and I was finally a mom,” Katie said recalling her first moments with Callie.
At a petite five pounds and one ounce, doctors kept Callie Grace Van Tornhout at South Bend’s Memorial Hospital for nearly two weeks.
“When she got to come home, she thrived,” Katie said.
On January 7, 2010, Katie, Craig and Craig’s son Cole brought Callie to their home.
"We were finally the family of four we wanted. We had a child of each gender, I had my first baby and it was a girl. I wanted a girl from the beginning and our house became a pink paradise,” Katie said as she remembered the good days with her daughter.
But 19 days later, on January 24, Callie began showing signs of a slight cough. The next morning Katie took Callie to the doctor for an examination.
"As I was holding her, waiting for the doctor to come in, she stopped breathing in my arms and I panicked. The nurses soon ran into the room and they were yelling, ‘call 911, call 911,’” Katie said fighting to hold back her tears.
There was no turning back. Only four days after paramedics transported Callie back to Memorial Hospital, Callie took her last breath.
"We were both standing in the doorway and the doctor told us there was nothing they can do. We're looking at her and she's blue and not moving. But to see that she was gone, it was the hardest thing ever,” Katie said emotionally.
At that instant, time stood still for the Van Tornhout’s, before a nurse walked in.
“She said, ‘did they test her for Pertussis?’ And we had no idea what it was,” Katie remarked.
Doctors soon confirmed Callie died from Pertussis, also known as Whooping Cough; a disease highly preventable with a vaccine. Although Callie was three weeks too young to receive her Pertussis vaccination, her parents say whoever passed it along was most likely not vaccinated.
"We don't know where Callie got it. It may have been from the hospital, maybe one of us, someone from our family, we just don't know. But if everyone is vaccinated that risk goes down and everyone knows it wasn't their fault,” Katie said, showing her full support of vaccinations.
Soon after Callie passed away, the Van Torn Hout’s began a mission called Callie’s Crusade, to spread vaccine awareness in Callie’s honor. Soon after, the March of Dimes heard about Callie's Crusade and nominated Katie Van Tornhout for its prestigious Indiana Mother of the Year Award. On Aug 21, Katie and her husband Craig will attend a crowning reception in Indianapolis. There the Van Tornhout’s will be joined with ten other Hoosier mothers doing good deeds in their communities.
"This is Callie’s purpose in life. I think it sucks it had to be her, but I’m honored to do it for her,” Katie concluded.
A new Indiana law now mandates all sixth through twelfth grade students have three additional vaccinations starting the 2010 school year.
Those vaccines are:
*The MCV4 vaccine for meningitis
*A second Varicella vaccine to prevent chickenpox
*The T-DAP vaccine - for diseases including whooping cough, a vaccine that would have likely saved Callie’s life.