The flu causes more deaths each year than any other vaccine-preventable disease — mostly among older people, but it is also very dangerous for children and young adults.

Each year, millions of children get sick with seasonal influenza; thousands of children are hospitalized and some children die from flu.

A total of five influenza-associated pediatric deaths in Michigan have been reported for the 2016-17 season. Nationally, 108 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported for the 2016-17 flu season.

Many people don’t realize how serious the flu can be — but Jalyn is not one of them.

Read our Q-&-A with Jalyn to learn more about her brother’s fight against the flu.

Q: Can you tell us about your family? Where did you live when your brother got sick, where were you in life, etc.?

A: We have always been a healthy, close-knit family who values physical activity.  When Collin — the baby of the family — got sick, it sent shockwaves throughout my family. My brothers and I typically spent more days practicing in a gym than doing anything else and we enjoyed living a healthy, active lifestyle. When Collin got sick my family was living near Charlevoix and I was living in East Lansing while working on my master’s degree at Michigan State University.

Q: Describe the progression of your brother’s illness. What were the first symptoms? When did you know it was serious?

A: I got news that Collin was sick on a Thursday night. He had just scored 20 points in his basketball game, and my mom texted me to let me know that they had won, but that Collin wasn’t feeling quite up to par. I didn’t think much of it until I heard from my mom on Sunday morning when she said she was taking Collin to the hospital for the second time that weekend because he was struggling to breathe. I talked to her on the phone for a while that evening, doing all I could to comfort her without physically being there. As I was getting ready for bed, I received a text from my mom saying they were boarding a plane to Devos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids where doctors would most likely put Collin on a ventilator.

I quickly packed a bag and drove to Grand Rapids so I could be with my family when Collin’s plane landed.  When Collin first got settled in his room, my brother and I were overwhelmed with how hard it was for him to breathe. He could hardly inhale, and was struggling to even finish a short sentence without becoming out of breath. I knew it was serious when he was being flown to Devos Children’s Hospital — but I didn’t truly understand until I saw the state he was in.

Early the next morning he was put on ventilator, and they determined shortly after that he had the flu — which developed into pneumonia and a blood infection. Collin had four chest tubes inserted and underwent surgery to help remove the fluid from his lungs. After a couple weeks he was taken off the ventilator, just to be put back on again three days later due to pneumothorax. Right before he was put back on the ventilator, Collin told me that it felt like his chest was getting punched over and over again, and he was too tired to fight anymore.

It is impossible to describe the gut-wrenching feeling of someone you love, so very much, telling you that they no longer have the strength to fight for their life — because of a vaccine-preventable illness.

 Thankfully, we had a huge support team of family, friends and community members. My family lives in a very small town, and my brothers and I went to a very small school. Everyone lended their support in any way they could to ensure that our family was doing the best we could.

Q: What did you know/think about the flu before this happened? How did your opinions change after going through this experience?

 A: Before Collin got sick I knew the flu was serious, and that people die from it every year. However, I never thought that my brother, who was a healthy and active athlete with no underlying conditions, could get so sick from the flu.

After seeing how sick my brother was, it baffles me that people risk getting the flu when there is a preventable alternative. The flu vaccine is the best prevention we have against the flu, and the benefits of flu vaccine outweigh the minor side effects people may experience from getting the flu vaccine.  

Q: What are some of the most common misconceptions you encounter from people when it comes to the flu?

A: The flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. There is a chance that recipients will have minor side effects, but these are incomparable to the symptoms of the flu. The flu vaccine does not have a live virus in it, so it is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine.

Q: For someone reading the blog that is hesitant about vaccines, what’s the one thing you want them to take away after hearing your story?

 A: I often hear people say they never get the flu, and I want to them to learn from Collin’s story that anyone can get the flu. Collin was rarely sick, and my entire family took good care of their health, yet my brother almost died from the flu.

 Getting the flu vaccine isn’t just about protecting yourself, it’s about protecting your family, your friends and your community. There are many people who have a high-risk of developing influenza-related complications, such as young children, older family members and people with chronic conditions that you interact with on a daily basis. If you choose not to get vaccinated, you choose to spread the flu to these people that you love and care about so much. You can spread the virus without even knowing it, before you even have symptoms. If you choose to not get vaccinated, you are putting yourself and others at risk.

 It is important to receive the flu vaccination so we can not only prevent ourselves from getting sick but prevent our children and loved ones from enduring a battle similar to Collin’s. Fighting the flu is a battle that no one should have to fight.

Jalyn’s story is an important reminder that even healthy people can get the flu, and it can be very serious.

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