"Love You Tons"

Joan Mann never goes a day without wearing a delicate silver necklace with a pendant in the shape of one angel wing. Her only daughter, Kendra Mann O’Brien, who died in April 2012, was buried wearing a matching necklace. She was just 36.

Kendra contracted the influenza virus (the flu) just a month before she died at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City. After fighting the flu and the pneumonia that followed, she succumbed to a secondary rare fungal infection.

Fashion Forward for Flu Awareness
Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 6 p.m.
Muller Bressler Brown (mbb+)
11610 Ash, Suite 200
Leawood, Kan.
Tickets: $40

To purchase tickets, go to
kendraslegacyfoundation.org or email

An otherwise healthy, vibrant wife and mother of two children under the age of six, Kendra was not the typical person statistically susceptible to death associated with the flu, so she did not get a flu vaccine during the 2011-2012 flu season. That simple act may have saved Kendra’s life, says Joan.

“I don’t know what would have happened if she had gotten vaccinated,” says Joan, who had cozy photo blankets created for the family with the expression, “Love you tons,” because it was Kendra’s favorite closing phrase. “But I really don’t think that we would be here.”

“Here” is a state of purposeful grief for the Mann family. Joan and husband Kennis have a home full of photos and memories dedicated to the life of Kendra and all of their children. Photos of Kendra’s son and daughter, Griffin and Josie, and her husband, Greg, fill their upstairs hallway with the lyrics to “You Are My Sunshine” framed in between. It was one of Kendra’s favorite tunes to sing to her children.

On the kitchen island in their Leawood home that was purchased a few years ago to be closer to Kendra, their sons Josh and Zach and their grandchildren, Joan and Kennis have piles of papers with a beautiful blue and green butterfly representing the logo for Kendra’s Legacy Foundation. The couple, married for 42 years, created the foundation to promote awareness and education about the flu, the need for vaccinations, and support services such as grief counseling for parents who have lost a child.

Do I Have The Flu?

Flu-like symptoms may include fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat headache, body ache, fatigue and chills, according to the CDC.

Tips To Keep Flu At Bay
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these steps will help to prevent the chance of getting the flu.

Get Vaccinated
Anyone six months and older is urged to get a flu vaccine each year as soon as they are available for the current flu season.

Everyday Prevention
Stay away from sick people, and stay home if you are feeling ill. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands with soap and water. Be cautious of germs on all surfaces, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Flu Antiviral Drugs
Take flu antiviral drugs (antiviral drugs are not antibiotics, which cannot treat viral illness such as the flu) if prescribed by a physician to treat illness and to possibly prevent complications. Flu antiviral drugs may be more effective when taken within two days of flu onset. 

“It will be interesting to see where this (Kendra’s Legacy Foundation) is in five years,” says Kennis, who looks remarkably like Kendra. “You just never know when something like this is going to happen to you, but this is a small thing that we can do for Kendra.”

Kendra was a 1998 graduate of Kansas State University with a degree in fashion merchandising. Joan says Kendra always loved to shop for the latest styles and wanted to work in the fashion industry ever since she wrote her career dreams in her middle school memory book. To honor Kendra’s love of the latest trends, the Manns are hosting the foundation’s first event, Fashion Forward for Flu Awareness, at MBB Advertising in Park Place on September 12.

In the Tory Burch flip-flops that Kendra gave her, Joan laughs that she would not know about designers without her daughter’s insight. Joan has worked hard to secure several high-fashion items for a silent auction, such as a famously trendy scarf by donni charm, similar to one worn by celebrity Jessica Alba. Kennis and Joan also plan to feature a wine wall at the event where partygoers can select an unknown bottle for a small monetary donation without knowing if it’s worth $10 or $200.

More important, says Joan, the event will feature a flu vaccine clinic, staffed by trained medical professionals from Passport Health, where attendees can get a vaccination on-site.

“Anything that we can do to help people become more informed about getting vaccinated we will look into,” says Joan. “People have all sorts of reasons for not getting the flu vaccine, but the bottom line is that they should, to protect themselves and their families.”

Dr. Michelle Haines agrees, and she plans to share the same message at Fashion Forward for Flu Awareness. Haines, intensivist, medical director of the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) and co-director of the ECMO Program at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, will speak about the details surrounding Kendra’s passing in hopes that everyone has a better understanding of the flu and its severity.
“We typically don’t think that a young, healthy individual can die from the flu, but they can,” says Haines, who immediately felt a connection to Kendra and the Mann family during Kendra’s treatment and care at St. Luke’s. “Kendra is a good example of that, although her circumstance was not the usual.”

Haines and the staff at St. Luke’s were instrumental in Kendra’s ability to live for a month as she tried to battle infection after infection, says Joan. Kendra was life-flighted to St. Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute due to her lungs’ inability to respond to medications and the ventilator.

At St. Luke’s, she was placed on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). St. Luke’s is the only adult ECMO center in the area. The ECMO machine worked to take over the function of Kendra’s lungs, allowing time for the lungs to heal and the antibiotics to work. Sadly, although her lungs recovered, the rare fungal infection in her body was not reparable.

“It was so hard to see that we had saved Kendra from one thing, and then we were blindsided with something else,” says Haines. “It was absolutely devastating for everyone involved.”

Haines says that flu vaccines statistically prevent and protect 50 to 80 percent of people from getting the flu. The most common adverse effect from the flu vaccine is a sore arm, and less than 1 percent of people suffer any serious side effects related to the vaccine.

“The bottom line is that the flu vaccine could save your life,” says Haines. “Everyone six months and older should get vaccinated because we are all vulnerable.”

Joan can’t help to think about the “what ifs.” She wonders if Kendra would be with them today if she had been vaccinated. However, she knows that her darling, fashionable, caring and doting daughter is now wearing a new set of glowing angel wings to match the ones on their shining necklaces.

“I know she’s with all of us every day, but some days that doesn’t make it easier,” says Joan.

To find out more about Kendra’s Legacy Foundation and Fashion Forward for Flu Awareness, go to kendraslegacyfoundation.org.

To find out more about ECMO, the flu and St. Luke’s Health System, go to stlukeshealthsystems.org.

Categories: Health & Wellness, Healthy Living