When a baby shows signs of being unwell, it’s always cause for concern. Their little bodies and fragile immune systems aren’t always strong enough to fight diseases. And the risk of infection often makes infants even more vulnerable.
So when parents Alex Dempsey and Gabriel Schultz became worried about their son’s health, they wasted no time. On Saturday June 30, 2018, the couple had just collected four-month-old Killy from daycare when he showed signs of a rash and a fever. The quick-thinking couple administered Tylenol in an attempt to bring his temperature down, but their efforts were unsuccessful.
Dempsey and Schultz – from Chesterfield, Virginia – then took their baby home in the hope that he would return to a more normal temperature. They assumed the hot weather had played a part in his symptoms, although the couple still kept a close eye on his condition. In an interview with WTVR-TV, Dempsey recalled the day when her world turned up-side-down.
“He had just eaten his bottle for the afternoon,” Dempsey said. “He was a little warm, but we figured it was a warm day so get him home and let him cool off.” Despite being given medicine, though, Killy’s condition did not improve. The couple took immediate action as a result and brought him to the nearest emergency room.
On arrival at St. Mary’s hospital, Richmond, little Killy underwent a number of tests. Pediatric doctors subsequently diagnosed the baby boy with meningitis, a potentially fatal infection affecting the meninges or membranes that protect the brain and spinal cord. As a result, Killy was placed in the intensive care unit for monitoring and treatment. By then, though, his blood pressure had dropped and the rash was covering most of his skin.
Killy’s parents were devastated with the news and prepared themselves for the worst. “The moment they said meningitis, I knew there was a really strong possibility that we were going to lose him,” Dempsey told WTVR-TV. The young mom was clearly aware of the dangers that often come with the condition.
Moreover, Killy’s young age – just four months – also didn’t bode well for him, no matter how hard he fought. “They told us we were going to hit the window if he was going to make it or not, but being he was only four months old, he didn’t really have an immune system to help us with that,” Dempsey recalled.
Tragically, these predictions were accurate, and the family’s worst fears came true. Just a day after Killy had showed the first signs of infection, his little heart started to struggle. The medical team began CPR, but 10 minutes later Dempsey knew she had lost her baby and told them to stop. She had watched her sweet boy take his last breath before her eyes.
“Just out of the blue, his heart rate dropped, and they started to do CPR. And after 10 minutes of CPR you don’t come back from that, so we had to tell them to stop,” said Dempsey. “After 10 minutes of CPR, grown adults don’t come back from that, he was brain dead.” The heartbroken mom held her son one last time and spoke to him softly.
“He was so swollen and purple, and it really didn’t look like him anymore, but I still held him to tell him how beautiful he was, and he was far more than I ever deserved to have,” Dempsey recalled. “And I told him how hard he had fought, and that we were so proud of him.” Both parents were naturally distraught at the loss of their son at such a young age. But they still hoped that lessons could be learned from the tragedy.
Medial staff at St. Mary’s hospital said there was a strong chance that the fatal disease had been passed on to Killy by an unvaccinated individual in the daycare center he attended. He had received his four-month vaccinations just two days prior to his death, but these injections do not offer full protection against meningitis.
Furthermore, the carrier of the deadly disease would probably have been asymptomatic. This means that they wouldn’t have been showing any symptoms of the illness. It’s likely they would have been carrying the condition in their throat but nonetheless had a strong enough immune system to prevent it from spreading any further.
But precious Killy wasn’t so lucky, and at the tender age of just four months his own immune system wasn’t ready to tackle such powerful bacteria. “Health officials we’ve spoken to who have been trying to track this down, that’s just their best guess: that an unvaccinated person was carrying it around, and my child happened to be the one who came in contact with it,” Dempsey told Today.
The grieving young mom continued with a warning to the public about making sure they receive vaccinations. Dempsey wanted to raise awareness about how vital it is for everyone to be protected from potentially fatal diseases. Not only for their own sakes, but for the safety of others around them who might not have the same physical strength to fight illnesses.
With her partner by her side, the brave mom appealed to the public, becoming visibly upset over the loss of her beautiful baby son. “If anything comes out of this, we want people to be aware that vaccinations can prevent things like this,” Dempsey said. “[Killy] was just a baby, so he really didn’t have much of a chance.”
Since Killy’s tragic death, a GoFundMe page has been set up to help the couple with funeral costs for their baby boy. In addition, their story spread across the internet, sparking fury and heated debate on numerous digital platforms. Many readers were left angry that Killy’s death could have been prevented.
Others, however, argued that some parents don’t agree with vaccinating their children due to fears of suspected links between immunization and infection. Debates ensued about parents’ rights to choose whether or not to vaccinate their child. “I don’t understand why people don’t vaccinate,” wrote one angry mom on the Daily Mail’s website.
Another reader was slightly more balanced in her opinions. “Everyone has their rights to vaccinate or not,” she wrote on WTVR.com. “But the rest of us should be aware if we are around children or even adults that have not been. I’m not willing to roll the dice on my child being around someone that’s not vaccinated.”
But despite the support and sympathy shown to the bereaved parents, nothing could bring baby Killy back. On July 12, 2018, Dempsey announced on her Facebook page that she would be taking a break from social media to grieve for her son in private. After thanking friends, family and the media for all their support, she bid her followers farewell.
“So, this will be my last post on this profile for a little while,” Dempsey wrote. “With all the coverage and harassment we have received, there has yet to have time to properly grieve. Your words, your support, your kindness… they have all been priceless to us. However, for now, we need time. To any and all media sharing our son’s story, thank you.”