Why I prioritize flu vaccination for my family: A mother’s tragic story

This article appeared in the Iosco County News-Herald. Read more here.

Flu season is here, and while many believe the flu isn’t serious, especially if they consider themselves “healthy,” it can sometimes be fatal.

That’s a fact that Angie Wehrkamp and her family know all too well — in 2015, she lost her otherwise healthy daughter, Gianna, to the flu. That year, everyone else in her family received their flu vaccination through work or school. “I had every intention to also get Gianna vaccinated, like we did for her brother, but it just fell off the radar for us as busy parents,” Wehrkamp recalls.

“My son and daughter had an unparalleled bond. Gianna was a feisty and fearless 2-year-old who commanded every room she walked into. She was also her brother’s biggest fan at all his sporting events.”

When Gianna first became sick, it was mild, and she just felt a little warm. But the next morning when Gianna’s breathing didn’t sound right, Wehrkamp took her to their family doctor to get her checked out. Her daughter was diagnosed with the flu, prescribed an antiviral medication, and sent home with instructions for Gianna to rest.

When they first brought her home, despite running a low-grade fever and her lungs sounding rattly, Gianna overall seemed fine, relaxing and watching cartoons all day. “I took her to bed with me that night, so I could keep a close eye on her,” said Wehrkamp. “When I woke up around 2 a.m., I discovered that she was not breathing.”

In less than 48 hours of presenting with a mild fever, Gianna passed away at the age of 2.

After losing her daughter, Wehrkamp wanted to do something to help spread awareness and help prevent other families from going through what she did, joining the nonprofit group, Families Fighting Flu.

“I love working with Families Fighting Flu because it allows me to honor Gianna’s memory,” said Wehrkamp. “By sharing our family’s story, we are helping to prevent others from having to go through the grief that we struggle with every day.”

“Not getting my daughter vaccinated will forever be my biggest regret in life,” said Wehrkamp. “Every year we now prioritize our family getting our flu vaccinations.”

Arming yourself with the information to help protect your family

Wehrkamp’s story shows how devastating the flu can be to a family. Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. Some people, such as people 65 years and older, young children and people with certain health conditions, are at higher risk of serious flu complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to protect against the flu is for everyone six months of age and older to get vaccinated annually.

Additionally, the CDC recommends that pregnant people receive a flu vaccination during flu season, which can be given any time during pregnancy.1 Mothers in their third trimester can also be vaccinated for the season as soon as flu vaccination is available, in order to help protect their newborn infants during their first months of life during flu season.1

Don’t wait for another reminder; plan to talk to your family’s doctor or pharmacist about vaccination. It’s not too late!

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About I Vaccinate

I Vaccinate provides information and tools based on real medical science and research to help Michigan parents protect their kids. Support is provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Franny Strong Foundation.

You’ve got questions. That’s a good thing.

As parents, determining how best to protect our children can be overwhelming and confusing. We’re here to help.

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