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New Beginnings, Same Roots

As a new research analyst at CHI, I have enjoyed the excitement of moving to a new state, buying a new car, finding a new apartment, and of course, starting a new job with new coworkers.

But my passion for health care and public health is not new. A life-threatening case of the flu sparked my interest in an unusual, but very personal, way. During my first year of grad school at Michigan State University, my little brother came down with the flu. He was a healthy 14-year-old, so I wasn’t too concerned. But that flu led to Collin being hospitalized for four weeks. He was on a ventilator fighting for his life for the better part of three weeks.

This experience influenced my career path in two ways. First, it motivated me to join the Division of Immunization at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as my first job out of grad school. And it also helped me to think about health and health care in a broader context, which I will put to use at CHI.

Here are my thoughts about how my brother’s flu fits into the larger health policy landscape:

Jalyn and Collin Ingalls.Access to Care:

Fortunately, my family lives near a small rural hospital in Michigan. But when Collin came down with the flu, our hospital wasn’t able to vent a child younger than 15. Had his doctors waited any longer to send him to a larger hospital – we landed at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital more than three hours away — he may not have received the quality of care he needed because of a lack of access to specialty care in the rural area we call home. Collin’s doctors were thinking ahead, choosing to fly him to a children’s hospital before he was too sick to travel.

Availability of care options is critical. The outcome of Collin’s story could have been very different had his doctors not been thinking about the long-term care he was going to need.

Prevention:

Collin’s flu made me think about prevention measures in and out of the hospital setting.

Collin received the nasal spray flu vaccine, FluMist®, three months before the onset of his flu. Though the nasal spray flu vaccine was found to have low effectiveness that year, it may have still provided some protection for Collin. In fact, a recently published study found that influenza vaccine significantly reduces a child’s risk of dying from influenza.

Beyond that, patient safety actions were taken to ensure that Collin’s health care providers did not spread the flu to other vulnerable patients, and that they did not spread any other diseases to Collin while he was so sick.

Social Determinants of Health:

Having a support system was critical to providing care for Collin. This was an important factor in our situation, even though having a social, community or family network is only a small part of the factors that influence health.

When one of your loved ones is sick, you will do anything to make them as comfortable as possible, and provide the best care you can. But you can burn out quickly when this means pulling all-nighters or spending 24 hours of many days inside a hospital.

It became critical to receive emotional support, as well as support to help physically provide care to Collin. We received offers to be his support system during one of the overnight shifts, and that made a big difference to us.

Collin is now a healthy high school senior, competing on the varsity basketball team and preparing for college next year.

New Beginnings

So far, my favorite thing about my new job has been listening to the conversations and project ideas my colleagues are having around these same issues of access, prevention and the social determinants of health.

Thankfully, my new coworkers wasted little time welcoming me. On my third day, five team members approached me about opportunities to be involved in projects.

Oh, and I’ve experienced one other new thing. The stock show. A CHI team participated in a goat roping competition that raised money for education. Props to our team for its second-place finish. While I did not participate on this team, it is clear the opportunities for growth at CHI are endless!

And finally, for those of you who are curious. Yes, I was named after Jalen Rose, the University of Michigan basketball star who played for the Denver Nuggets in the early ‘90s.

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