Partnership Spotlight: Rebecca Hendricks & The End-FLUenza Project
Rebecca Hendricks is the founder of The End-FLUenza Project and a community partner of WithinReach through our Immunization Action Coalition of Washington. Rebecca was recently featured in the Los Angeles Times, and she took some time to sit down with us to answer our questions and share her story for this Partnership Spotlight.
Pictured left is Rebecca Hendricks with picture of Scarlet receiving a Flu vaccine at an End FLU-enza event.
Your website mentions that you were motivated by the loss of your daughter Scarlet to create this foundation, can you tell us a little more about your daughter and how she inspired you to start the Fight the Flu Foundation (now The End-FLUenza Project)?
On December 19, 2014, my 5-year-old daughter Scarlet Anne died. She died from the flu. However, it wasn’t until later that I found out her cause of death was the FLU!
When Scarlet was in the hospital, I was told she had Pneumonia. It wasn’t until 2 weeks after her death did I find out her actual cause of death was flu and there was no sign of Pneumonia in her lungs according to the Medical Examiner. Although, no answer will ever be OK- I felt like pneumonia was easier to accept than flu. I had never heard of anyone dying from flu; I thought my child was the only child on the face of this earth that ever died from flu. I couldn’t wrap my head around how a person could die from just a bad cold… I just couldn’t.
The whole situation happened so suddenly, less than 48 hours. I replayed each day leading up to her death and most of it just didn’t make sense. Literally, the day before she died she was racing me to the door of her dentist office, for her check-up. Then the next moment, I’m sitting there, wondering what I’m going to do with my life? What am I going to do without my first girl? My middle child. My tiny dancer.
Scarlet was fearless. The moment she made an entrance in to this world, she made a statement. Even at just 5, she was passionate and didn’t give up anything without a fight. I feared what each day held for me going forward without her. But it was reflecting on my Scarlet, and how her dreams excited her and how she knew with every ounce of her being that she could be whatever she wanted to be, that gave me strength during my time of grieving. Nothing was just a dream to her. I learned from losing her that being courageous wasn’t the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.
If all medicine was 100% effective, my daughter would be alive today. But while no medicine works 100% of the time, any percentage of effectiveness is better than none. I wish someone had told me what I was up against. Perhaps, my daughter would still be living fearlessly singing ‘Royal’ to the top of her lungs in my living room if she had gotten the flu vaccine.
What would you tell a fellow parent who also had never vaccinated or was on the fence about the flu vaccine?
I never vaccinated my family against flu. Quite frankly, I never even gave it second thought. I wasn’t against vaccination. I just didn’t think the flu was deadly like some of these other diseases my children got vaccines for. There were times I had my doubts about the vaccine due to hearsay. So, I decided to learn more about the flu, what it is, how to recognize it, how one gets it and especially, how to prevent it. After lots of reading, research, coffee dates, and phone calls with people like Suzanne, founder of Ladybug House and Cindy Smith from the Pierce Co Immunization Coalition and Christine from Every Child by two–I came to a few conclusions.
1.) My daughter was NOT the only child on the face of this earth who died from flu and in fact, it’s quite common for children and adults, sadly, to die from the flu and it’s still a threat every year.
2.) Vaccination is the best way to protect your children, yourself and your loved ones.
3.) People needed to know the flu can kill you but you can protect yourself.
I was so compelled and eager to tell everyone to get more informed about the flu risks. I wanted to start knocking on doors right then. I needed to get this important message out- and the people that needed to hear it, weren’t looking for it. It was in that moment I decided to create the Fight the Flu Foundation, now named The End-FLUenza Project.
It didn’t take long for the organization to establish a nationwide campaign around flu awareness — The Flu Hat Campaign. This campaign became an avenue for several moms with similar experiences as myself to find our place/ our purpose in this world after such tragic loss. The Flu Hat campaign gives us an opportunity to share our lost loved ones story and let everyone know they were real humans and the Flu was their cause of death. Through sharing our stories we were educating parents on protecting their vulnerable new baby from flu.
Can you tell me a little more about what The End-FLUenza Project is and what it does?
The End-FLUenza Project is a national organization who’s mission is to empower families within communities through education and awareness- to make informed decisions on preventative measures they can take to protect against influenza.
The Flu Hat Campaign is our major year around campaign. Our concept involves creating opportunities for flu education, by distributing hand-made baby hats to new mothers. These “made with love” hats are packaged inside bags, along with flu awareness/ educational materials. The baby bag also includes a story of a child who has either been affected by the flu or lost their fight to the flu. With our stories, we give parents a chance to make an informed decision with the information we presented in their ‘made with love’ mother bag. You can follow the campaign on social media through the hashtag: #ProtectEveryoneAroundYou
Of course, the key component of this campaign has been procuring the large number of hats needed. We are fortunate and grateful to have enlisted many wonderful volunteers specifically for this particular task. Generous and caring people from all over the world have been contributing their time (and yarn) to crochet or knit hats for us. The organization has received hats from as far as India! We are so thrilled to have delivered over 11,000 hats to 45 different hospitals in 26 states!
We also launched our annual Walk to Fight the Flu. This family fun, vendor and educational event brings the community together for an exciting day of shopping, games, music, raffles, the 5k walk, most importantly— our flu clinic! We offer NO COST flu shots to the entire public! Thanks to local pharmacies and our very own Medical Reserve Corps. This event is working its way to each state, we add a new state each year. This year will be our 3rd year. We will have Washington, Massachusetts and New York!
How is The End-FLUenza Project connected to WithinReach
Not only am I the founder of The End-FLUenza Project, but I am also now an active leader within the Pierce County Immunization Coalition as the Community Education Chairman. While there are so many reasons people don’t get a flu shot- it is my tireless life journey to present factual information, share the precious lives of those affected by the flu. And most importantly, I want to empower each individual I come in contact with to make an informed decision on their lifestyle actions to protect themselves and everyone around them.
All pictures generously provided by Rebecca Hendricks.