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After death of daughter, mother encourages people to take flu seriously

Kendra Mann O’Brien and Joan Mann enjoy a mother-daughter day out not long before complications from influenza took O’Brien’s life.
Kendra Mann O’Brien and Joan Mann enjoy a mother-daughter day out not long before complications from influenza took O’Brien’s life. Photo provided

Before the diagnosis of sepsis, before the LifeFlight, before the 30-day hospital stay – and before the death of her daughter — Joan Mann said her family hadn’t really thought all that much about influenza.

“I remember (Kendra’s) husband and I and Kendra talking about it and I said, ‘I think we just need to build up our resistance,’” Mann said of a discussion not long before the fateful fall of 2011. Kendra Mann O’Brien missed her flu shot and died soon after at the age of 36.

Like many families, theirs was naive about the dangers of the flu, she said. They got shots in 2009, the year of the big swine flu scare, but didn’t always make them a high priority in other years.

Now Mann, of Leawood, fills her days trying to encourage others to get vaccinated through her work with Kendra’s Legacy Foundation.

“I just had to do something positive to make up for what happened to her,” Mann said.

Kendra’s Legacy Foundation is in its third year of raising money to host vaccination clinics and encourage people to take influenza seriously. Often, people assume that the disease doesn’t kill young, healthy people with strong immune systems, she said.

“I just want to get the word out to people. I don’t want anybody to have to go through what she went through.”

O’Brien was planning a spring break trip to Florida in March 2012 when she first felt ill with what the family later learned was H1N1. It started out like any typical illness, with daughter warning Mom not to come visit. When things weren’t better by the third or fourth day, Mann said, O’Brien took herself to an urgent care center. They checked her vital signs and sent her back home, she said.

Just over 24 hours later, though, O’Brien called her mother to ask for a ride to a doctor’s appointment later in the day. It was obvious the illness was much worse. Mann took her instead to the emergency room at the closest hospital, Menorah Medical Center.

It was only a day after her vitals checked out fine, but doctors said O’Brien’s oxygen level was dangerously low and her lungs filled with fluid.

“That’s how fast the flu can set in, and that’s what I want people to understand,” Mann said.

Four days later, things were much, much worse. Sepsis – a deadly killer that attacks the organs through the bloodstream – had set in. O’Brien was air-transported to St. Luke’s Hospital.

She held on for 30 days while the sepsis ravaged her digestive tract and other organs. But on April 5, 2012, O’Brien couldn’t hold on any longer. She is survived by her husband, Kennis, and two children who were 6 and 3 at the time.

“It’s hard when you lose not only your daughter but your best friend,” Mann said. “We were so close. She brought our family together.”

Mann started Kendra Mann O’Brien’s namesake legacy in 2013. Because O’Brien worked in the fashion industry and was a jewelry maker, the fundraising drives involve fashion shows. The latest Fashion Forward for Flu Awareness was in September, raising money for vaccination clinics at three sites this year, she said. Annually, the foundation plans to alternate the fashion show with a family run/walk to raise awareness and funds.

The vaccinations are given through a partnership with Healthy Solutions Inc., which brings the vaccine and healthcare workers to administer it. Mann hopes to provide an easy solution for parents who want their kids to be vaccinated but are worried about the cost or about having to take time off from work to get it done. She encourages all parents to get the shot as well.

“If your kids get the flu shot, you need it, too,” she said.

The foundation has been able to hold three clinics this year, but Mann said she wants to eventually increase it to 10 or 13 a year.

In the meantime, she’ll continue fundraising. The next opportunity is an event at the opening of a Kendra Scott jewelry store in Town Center Plaza. Part of the proceeds of sales from 5 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 9 will be donated, she said.

Flu Facts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine.

What’s new this flu season?

▪ The CDC recommends that only injectable flu shots are recommended for use this season.

▪ Flu vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses.

▪ According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu-related deaths during a given season can number as high as 49,000.

▪ A new study from Health Affairs reports that flu costs in the U.S. last year for adults reached $5.8 billion in medical visits, medication and lost productivity.

Information provided by UnitedHealthcare

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