What Do Whooping Cough and NASCAR Have in Common? Jeff Gordon

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IJune 29, 2010

Stock car racing and children's health issues, particularly pertussis or whooping cough, don't often appear together in NASCAR news.

But four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon proved to be the common denominator, today partnering with his wife Ingrid Vandebosch to call attention to this new emerging children's health issue.

Just last week in New Hampshire, Gordon announced that he was donating $75,000 to match his Pepsi Refresh $25,000 grant award to establish a program for sexually and physically abused children at the Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital.

This week, Gordon, father of 3 year old daughter Ella Sofia and about to be dad of a son yet to be named, announced a new partnership with the March of Dimes and drug maker Sanofi Pasteur to educate other parents about the dangers of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.

Jeff Gordon was so passionate about the issue that he rolled up his sleeve and got his own pertussis booster shot.  His wife Ingrid Vandebosch will get hers as well, as soon as their second child is born in August.

"A lot of people aren't familiar with the term pertussis," Gordon said in an interview on Sirius NASCAR Radio's The Morning Drive.  "It's actually whooping cough.  And with a new baby on the way and a 3-year-old daughter, this is something that Ingrid and I are really getting behind."

"It's important to get the awareness out to people, especially adults and parents, that you could be putting your child, especially a newborn at risk if you don't get the adult pertussis booster," he said.

"Whooping cough is really a very serious disease," Gordon continued.  "And it's very contagious.  Right now there's an outbreak in California and we're seeing a rise in the number of cases of children with pertussis."

The March of Dimes agrees with Gordon and Vandebosch, citing a nationwide resurgence of pertussis.  Through June 5, 2010, there have been 4,198 provisional cases of pertussis reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several states have reported significant increases in pertussis cases this year compared to last year.

The cough is especially troublesome for infants, who sound like they are gasping for breath as they cough.  Pertussis can also turn into pneumonia, which can often be fatal, especially for the very young.

"What many people don't know is that babies are most likely to catch the disease from a member of their own family," Dr. Alan Fleischman, senior vice president for the March of Dimes, said.  "It is vital that parents understand the risk of pertussis, as well as the protection that adult vaccination can provide."

Gordon and Vandebosch are working not only with the March of Dimes but also Sanofi Pasteur on the Sounds of Pertussis Campaign.  The mission is to raise awareness about the disease and to urge parents and others in close contact with infants to get the adult Tdap vaccine.

Gordon is also sharing his personal playlist in a promotion called Sounds Track 4 Change.  Five percent of any song downloaded from Gordon's playlist will be donated to the March of Dimes for pertussis education.

The campaign will also feature a public service announcement featuring the driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet.  Parents and other caregivers can learn more about the disease by visiting www.SoundsofPertussis.com.

"We've been educated ourselves and have really been surprised about learning about it," Gordon said.  "So we're trying to get the word out to other parents as well."

Photo Credit:  Mary Jo Buchanan