Kendra Mann-O’Brien was 35 years old when she contracted the flu on or about March 1, 2012. A month later, she was no longer alive, leaving behind a loving husband and two small children.
In 2013, Lailan and I were introduced to Kendra’s mother, Joan Mann, who had just established a flu awareness non-profit in memory of Kendra called Kendra’s Legacy Foundation. Joan was looking to host a fundraising fashion show and needed a venue to host the event. The open space at the Muller Bressler Brown ad agency seemed like a perfect venue, and by the way, I had never been to a fashion show so that angle piqued my interest. Just sayin’. To show my complete ignorance on the seriousness of the flu, when I first spoke with Joan about hosting the show, she said, “Yes, I’m looking for a venue to host a fundraising event for FLU.” I quickly racked my brain to solve the acronym puzzle. Fibro Leukocyte Unusualness? Fibro Lymphoma Undulation? Easily stumped, my lame response was, “So, what does FLU stand for?” Joan, in her very sweet way, completely let me off the hook and simply said, “The flu. Like F.L.U. the flu,” and she graciously moved on. I think my ignoramus response highlights the lack of awareness many of us have of the risks associated with the flu.
Moving on, the event was a lot of fun and raised some good money for Kendra’s Legacy Foundation. But things got very real when Joan took the mic and told the tragic story of Kendra. We clearly forgot to place Kleenex boxes throughout the event space. The entire crowd was in tears. Joan was followed by Kendra’s physician, Dr. Michelle Haines, who informed all of us about the seriousness of the flu, including the history of the flu as a major epidemic on several occasions in our country.
It was a powerful presentation and after that night, Lailan and I have had the privilege of staying in touch with Joan. Since we are smack dab in the middle of flu shot season, we decided to sit down with Joan over coffee to ask her a few questions about the flu:
How many people die every year from the flu? The flu kills about 36,000 people a year, according to the CDC. Most deaths are caused by complications from the flu.
Why doesn’t the general public understand how serious the flu really is? I believe as the public is educated about the seriousness of the flu and more stories are shared on social media and websites like Families Fighting Flu, the public is starting to realize the importance of vaccinations to avoid contracting the flu.
Any specific advice for people 50+? Yes, make sure they get vaccinated not only for themselves, but also because it will keep other people from getting the flu. Vaccination rates among the elderly are at a higher percentage (about 65%), but 85% of all flu-related deaths occur in people 65 and older. What we are really concern about is the fact that the lowest vaccination rates are in the 18 to 49 age category. Kendra was in that age group as she was 36-years-old, so getting those percentages higher is of utmost importance and we believe that will only happen through awareness and education.
What can people do to help with flu awareness? I would say take an interest in what is happening in your community – listen to the news regarding reports of the flu. An app called Sickweather can be helpful in detecting which diseases or illnesses are prevalent in our area or areas where we may be traveling.
What can people do to help Kendra’s Legacy Foundation? Share Kendra’s story with others, get yourself and your loved ones vaccinated every year and attend any of our fundraising events. We are planning another major event next Spring 2018. And of course, donations to Kendra’s Legacy Foundation, as we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, are always appreciated. Donations primarily allow us to provide flu shots to children in schools who are not covered by insurance.
What do you say to people who are sort of anti-flu shots? This is a difficult question as we see this point-of-view on Facebook and other sites at times. I always listen to what they have to say and it is definitely possible some people have contracted a condition from the flu shot as all of our chemistries are different. Those situations are definitely sad, but they are also rare. I would say not getting a flu shot is riskier. Many more people would become ill and possibly die. Thanks to science and the availability of vaccinations, we no longer have to worry as much about polio, mumps, measles and other childhood diseases. The flu isn’t any different.
What has been happening with Kendra’s Legacy Foundation lately? In October, we visited three area grade schools in the Shawnee Mission School District and vaccinated over 350 students – in some instances 20% of the student population! We are also distributing flu brochures to area doctor office waiting rooms and we hope people will pick them up and learn and become more aware. I also recently spoke at an Adult Immunization Coalition meeting in Kingston, New York, where I shared Kendra’s story. The medical professionals present indicated they can only do so much to promote the importance of vaccinations, but until the public hears stories such as Kendra’s, we will continue to need to promote awareness. I would encourage everyone to visit the website www.familiesfightingflu.org and read the “family stories”. It will break your heart! I really feel if family physicians serve more as health educators, by counseling their patients about the necessity of getting their flu vaccinations, we will see an increase in vaccination rates.
Lastly, I am available to speak to area groups, as a primary mission of Kendra’s Legacy Foundation is promoting awareness of the dangers of the flu. I have said it before, but I feel if Kendra had been vaccinated in the Fall of 2011, she would be with us today!
You can read Kendra’s full story at kendraslegacyfoundation.org. While it might be emotional reading, it only reinforces the need to raise awareness of the potential serious effects of the flu.
Thank you to Joan and all of the volunteers with Kendra’s Legacy Foundation for staying strong, for spreading the word on flu awareness, and for saving lives.