Nonprofit works to offer free flu shots and raise awareness

By: Maddie Forshee | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 16, 2017

 Alana Yaksich

Alana Yaksich

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — Alana Yaksich, a West Bloomfield resident, was an average 5-year-old on Feb. 1, 2003. She spent the day with her family, watching movies and eating ice cream alongside her brothers. 

That evening, Alana developed a high fever and was rushed to the hospital. Within hours, Alana died from swelling and injury to her brain due to flu complications. 

In 2003, it wasn’t recommended that a child Alana’s age get a flu vaccination. 

“After she passed away, I started to educate myself more about the issue,” said Zachary Yaksich, Alana’s father and executive director of Alana’s Foundation. “I decided that I was going to make something positive out of a tragedy.”

What happened to her could happen to any child, he said, and that’s the reason her family set out to make sure people know the importance of the flu vaccination. 

“I wanted to stop this happening from other parents,” said Yaksich. “I wanted to teach others how dangerous the flu is and how important the flu vaccine is.”

Yaksich said he began educating others informally, hosting workshops and vaccination clinics at Alana’s old school and at church groups.

“During that time, I was watching people bring their families in to get vaccinated, and they were picking and choosing on who in the family would get vaccinated,” said Yaksich. “They couldn’t afford for the whole family (to get vaccinated).”

Yaksich and his family established Alana’s Foundation in 2009.

“I wanted to help them overcome the barrier of payment,” he said. “So I could legally raise money and help defer the cost or eliminate the cost.” 

Since the nonprofit was established, the recommendations surrounding flu shots changed to include that every person 6 months and older receive an annual flu vaccination. 

Alana’s Foundation serves to educate communities about the importance of the flu vaccine and the dangers of the flu, as well as to provide free vaccinations to community members in West Bloomfield and metro Detroit. 

Yaksich said he speaks to various schools and different community outreach programs, including the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. In the past, he has spoken with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 

This year, the nonprofit is hosting the Caring Crowd fundraiser and is working with Johnson & Johnson to match every dollar donated. 

The foundation works with local clinics to provide free flu shots, like Street Medicine and Cass Clinic, both based in Detroit. Clinics can write in grant requests to Alana’s Foundation, and the nonprofit will provide the funds for free vaccinations. 

“We pride ourselves in being able to provide flu vaccinations at no cost to our patients,” said Adriana Clap, a student coordinator who works with Cass Clinic, a student-run free clinic that serves Detroit’s underserved population. “We couldn’t run a successful flu vaccination program without the help of Alana’s Foundation.”

Alana’s Foundation hosts the College and University Flu Challenge to encourage college students to get vaccinated. 

“We found out that college-age students are the lowest vaccinated group for all vaccines, especially the flu,” said Yaksich. “College students are at that age where they feel invincible. If they have an extra $20 or $25, they’re not going to spend it on a flu shot.” 

The program started in 2014, and 14 schools participated. Since then, the program has expanded to include 31 schools nationally. 

The nonprofit sponsors a similar program in the Catholic schools in metro Detroit.

Yaksich said he’s glad that Alana’s Foundation provides a human aspect to a common sickness that many people don’t think much of. 

“We all hear statistics, whether it’s drunk driving or texting or the flu,” he said. “But as humans, it goes in one ear and out the other. ... We don’t think about it. (Alana’s Foundation) has the story, and that’s the impact Alana’s Foundation has.” 

In the midst of flu season, Yaksich encourages everyone to take the common sense approach to the flu — wash your hands, don’t touch your face and keep away from people who are sick  — but the most important thing, he said, is to “get yourself vaccinated and get your family vaccinated.”

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