Motivated by Martin
Diane McGowan is determined to help others understand that not getting immunized against seasonal influenza can lead to tragedy
BY JENN FISHER
There was a time when Diane McGowan looked at the seasonal flu as an annual nuisance. “I weathered the storm by wrapping myself in several blankets to sweat it out, stayed on the couch, and had my husband take care of the kids and the household for the next several days. It was draining but the next season, I would do it all over again because I did not like needles. Little did I know what this cycle would cost me in the end,” McGowan says.
In 2005, McGowan’s 15-year-old son, Martin, became very ill. “We didn’t know it, but he had the flu,” she says. That night he threw up twice, had a fever, his lips were turning white from dehydration, and he complained of severe leg pain. “By the time we got to the hospital, his internal organs had already begun to break down, and sepsis was beginning,” McGowan says.
Just 16 hours after he first became ill, Martin was taken into surgery, but he did not survive. “Martin’s heart stopped around 6 p.m. and they could not revive him,” McGowan recalls. “My son tested positive for the flu and, as I learned later, the rest of his complications were caused by influenza. Martin was not vaccinated against the flu.”
Finding purpose: Flu fighting
“After Martin’s death, I was confused. I did not understand how a healthy, active 15-year-old boy could die from the flu in 16 hours, without me even suspecting that he had the flu,” McGowan says. She dug into research to learn more and ultimately became an advocate for flu vaccinations. “You don’t know how your body will handle influenza the first time you contract the flu. Our son had not contracted the flu before his death, and I regret that he hadn’t been vaccinated against it.”
To help others understand the life-threatening complications that seasonal flu can cause, McGowan and her family sought a way to educate others, finding an ideal place to do it: Lehigh Valley Health Network’s (LVHN) annual drive-thru flu shot clinics in Allentown. Each year since 2006, the McGowan family and their team of volunteers attend the drive-thru flu shot clinics and provide informational brochures to those who come to the event. The brochure details Martin’s story and reinforces the importance of receiving a seasonal flu vaccination. “Every time we hear a mom or dad tell us – ‘We were in line earlier in the day, got our shots, then read Martin’s story and decided to drive back to the clinic with our kids in the car’ – our hearts skip a beat. Fourteen years later and we are still in awe of LVHN’s commitment to keep the community healthy,” McGowan says.
Get your flu shot
If you or family members ages 6 months and older haven’t received your vaccination against seasonal flu, you can get a flu shot this weekend at either of the two drive-thru flu shot clinics LVHN is holding in Allentown. Seasonal flu vaccination is especially important this year as we face the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saturday, Nov. 7
9 a.m.-3 p.m.
3830 Dorney Park Road, Allentown, Pa. (view directions and map)
Sunday, Nov. 8
9 a.m.-3 p.m.
1050 IronPigs Way, Allentown, Pa. (view directions and map)
Get more information about the drive-thru flu shot clinics and download your registration form at LVHN.org/FluShots. All people in your vehicle who are older than age 2 must wear a face covering (such as a cloth face mask) to help reduce spread of the coronavirus.
As has been done for more than a decade, Diane McGowan and her family also will be gathering donated food and toiletry items from those who attend the drive-thru flu shot clinics. Those items will be provided to community organizations to help people in need.
You also can learn more about seasonal flu, COVID-19 and building emotional resilience during the pandemic by downloading The Healthiest You podcast. It’s available in your favorite podcast app.