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What Happened the Year We Didn't Get Our Flu Shots

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My family usually gets our flu shots every year.

Like many parents, I was juggling a busy to-do list and family activities. Flu shots simply fell to the bottom of my list and then unfortunately off my radar. At first, I didn’t think anything of it when Madi came home from school with a fever and overall exhaustion. She was an active 12-year-old, going to school and playing sports. I gave her over-the-counter medication which seemed to help a little bit and I planned to take her to the pediatrician first thing Monday morning.

On Monday morning, my husband went out to the store to buy a few grocery items we needed for the house, and I helped Madi take a shower before her doctor’s appointment. She could barely stand at that point and was having some trouble breathing. By the time I grabbed her a towel and came back to help her out of the shower, her lips were blue, and her face was sunken, and I knew I needed to get her to the emergency room immediately. I called my husband and told him to leave everything behind at the store and rush home.

When we got to our local hospital, we quickly found out that Madi had double pneumonia and had to be flown out by helicopter to a bigger children’s hospital in Missouri. She was placed on ECMO, dialysis, and a ventilator and we soon found out that Madi had influenza B, which led to necrotizing pneumonia, and MRSA. She faced many setbacks while in the hospital and was eventually discharged after a total of 93 days. I was told my daughter had a 1% chance of survival — a mother’s true worst nightmare.

It took a lot of time for Madi to bounce back, and she is still facing complications to this day, as she recently had to have the lower chamber of her left lung removed due to the damage the flu inflicted on her nearly a decade ago.

The year my daughter became so sick with the flu, I hadn’t gotten her a flu shot and I’ll live with that guilt for the rest of my life. It’s not that I don’t believe in vaccines — I just didn’t make it a priority that year. I had taken Madi for her annual check-up in July of that year right around her birthday, and I remember her pediatrician telling me to come back for her annual flu vaccine, but it fell off my list of priorities.

I find it incredibly important to share my family’s story in hopes that it can help prevent another family from experiencing a similar circumstance. My goal is for no other mother to have to go through what I’ve been through. Ever since Madi’s experience with flu, I have been a dedicated advocate for everyone six months of age and older to receive their annual flu vaccine. I became a member of Families Fighting Flu, a national, nonprofit, advocacy organization dedicated to protecting children, families, and communities against the flu, because I so strongly believe in its mission — to help save lives and reduce hospitalizations by educating and raising awareness on the importance of influenza vaccination.

Our organization puts a face to the flu. What’s unique about Families Fighting Flu is that our current Board of Directors only includes individuals who have been personally impacted in some way by the flu — we each have a story. Some are of deaths of loved ones due to the flu, and some are survival stories.

I always say we are one big club and are thankful to have each other for the love and support, but we hope that no other families have to join us. By telling our stories, even as hard as it can be, our goal is that people will walk away from the conversation remembering our loved ones and understanding that flu can be a deadly, yet preventable disease.

As we approach peak flu season, please remember it’s not too late for you and your loved ones to get vaccinated. Let’s all do our part to help keep each other safe and healthy.

Getty image by Portra

Originally published: January 23, 2023
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