Flu Fighter: Angie Wehrkamp
Meet flu fighter Angie Wehrkamp from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who lost her healthy, two-year-old daughter, Gianna, to flu in January 2015. She never realized how dangerous flu could be and now works to raise awareness about the importance of annual flu vaccination through her work with the Sioux Falls Immunization Coalition, Families Fighting Fluexternal icon, and her personal project: Gianna’s Trees. Angie hopes that by sharing her story she can help prevent others from experiencing a similar tragedy.
- How has flu impacted you personally? Why do you fight flu?
Before I lost my daughter Gianna to flu, I just didn’t realize how dangerous it was. Gianna was a healthy, vibrant 2 1/2-year-old, who died of flu less than 48 hours after presenting with one of the first symptoms of influenza (a low-grade fever). This is an unimaginable consequence of what many parents mistake for a "bad cold." Until January of 2015, I was one of those parents, and then I suffered the greatest loss imaginable. I fight flu in order to honor her memory and protect other families from enduring the pain we live with every day. The hardest lesson and the greatest heartbreak of my life will be not vaccinating my daughter against flu, which I learned is potentially fatal but vaccine preventable. That is why fighting against flu and continuing to educate people on this preventable disease is so important to me.
- How do you fight flu?
Shortly after Gianna’s death, I shared her story with both local and national news/media outlets to raise awareness about the seriousness of flu in children. I soon became an advocate for Families Fighting Flu, a national non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to saving lives and reducing hospitalizations by protecting children and their families against influenza through education and advocacy. In September 2018, I became a board member of Families Fighting Flu. In July 2019, I joined the Sioux Falls Immunization Coalition to assist with outreach to local daycares with education and information regarding flu and the importance of annual flu vaccination for everyone 6 months and older. My ongoing personal advocacy projects include donating baby hats to hospitals around the U.S., sharing Gianna’s story, and encouraging people to plant trees while continuing the conversation about flu for our Gianna’s Trees project. In addition, my family and I participate in various flu awareness events in my area.
- What would you say to those who are hesitant about getting a flu vaccine?
Vaccines are proven to be safe, effective, and save lives. We know that the flu vaccine may not always prevent you from getting flu, but it may reduce the symptoms and the likelihood of hospitalizations or even death. The majority of children who have died from flu were not vaccinated. My Gianna was one of them and that is my biggest regret. My son also got flu shortly after Gianna did. He recovered in days. They were both completely healthy prior to getting flu. The difference? My son received his flu vaccine. My husband and I never did get flu that year, which was a shock to everyone since both kids got it. However, we had our flu vaccinations as well. I naively thought, flu is just a bad cold. If the flu vaccination was that important, the doctors would require it. Right?! WRONG. We just never got around to getting Gianna’s hers and I live with that regret every day.
- What do you want others to learn from your experience with flu?
Influenza is serious and unpredictable but most importantly, it’s preventable. The flu vaccine is the best way to fight flu. Not to discount good personal hygiene habits, because that is also essential to staying healthy. However, flu vaccines are the most effective way to prevent and stop the spread of the influenza virus. Preventing flu is not just about you or me, but rather the entire community. Our family is forever changed because of flu; a vaccine preventable disease. Please protect your family, protect your neighbors, and protect your community by getting your annual flu vaccination every year. People, especially children, should not be dying from the flu.
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