Raymond Plotkin was a freshman at UNM in 2009. A native of Texas, he was one of 18 freshmen accepted into the Living and Learning Community for Engineering. He planned to become a nuclear engineer, and he was very happy here. He loved living in Redondo Village and eating at La Posada. He was a friendly young man who liked his roommates and got involved in student engineering clubs and the local Hillel House. He kept in close touch with his parents and older brother in Houston. His mother Elaine said, “Raymond fell in love with UNM. He really connected with his School of Engineering advisers and did very well in school. He made good friends and was having fun. Everything was falling into place for him and the future looked bright.”
The fall semester was going well. Raymond carved a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween and reveled in his first snow experience, even saving snowballs in his dorm room freezer. When the time came, he got a flu shot. Sadly, that was the year the H1N1 flu took the nation by surprise, and the regular flu shot, the flu shot that was available to Raymond, didn’t include protection from H1N1.
In early November of 2009, Raymond got his first symptoms. He came to the Student Health Center and was treated for the flu. A few days later, on a Saturday, he got much worse and his roommates took him to UNMH, where he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. For four days, the doctors did everything they could, fighting to save his stricken lungs and heart with all that modern medicine has to offer. Tragically, nothing worked. On Nov. 11, just weeks shy of his 19th birthday, Raymond died from H1N1.
A week before his death, Raymond posted a quote on his Facebook page: “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” Raymond’s parents, rather than allow themselves to become paralyzed by the terrible grief that losing a child brings, have become passionate advocates of influenza immunization. They don’t want anyone else to lose a son or daughter to flu if it can be prevented. “Take One for Raymond” is the name of their initiative that has now become a foundation, spreading the word about influenza immunization.
Writes Elaine Plotkin, “All we ask is that everyone consider taking a flu shot, and if you’re on the fence about it, please think about it again. No family wants to hear that a loved one is sick in bed with the flu. It is our intent to educate and inform everyone about the importance of flu immunization. We do this because we wouldn’t want any other family to have to go through what our family has … without our son. That is why we will do everything we can do to ask each of you to take the flu shot, if you are able to do so.”
Student Health & Counseling (SHAC) and UNM Hospital partner to offer free “Take One For Raymond” flu shot clinics for the UNM community. The influenza vaccine will be offered to UNM students, staff and faculty members (anyone aged 18 or older) on Sept. 25, Sept. 26, Oct. 23 and Oct. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Student Union Building atrium.
Elaine and Ronnie Plotkin, Raymond’s parents, also established a scholarship in his name, starting the fund with a generous donation the same year they lost Raymond. Each fall, the scholarship is awarded to an incoming freshman engineering student. Recipients so far have been Paul Gilbreath and Sean Chavez. To contribute to the scholarship or for more information, contact the UNM School of Engineering at 277-5064 or visit unm.edu/~soeschol/freshman.html.
For the past two years, Elaine Plotkin has written an article like this one for the Daily Lobo. This year the honor is mine. I take this task very seriously because, you see, I have a son almost Raymond’s age, and that same year, my son also contracted H1N1. To my profound relief, he survived it. So every fall when flu season breaches the horizon, I imagine the pain Raymond’s parents have endured, and my heart hurts. And every fall I find inspiration in the courage they have shown by moving beyond the paralysis of unimaginable challenge, and I go “take one for Raymond.”
I hope you will too.
Peggy Spencer is a student-health physician. She is also the co-author of the book “50 ways to leave your 40s.” Email your questions directly to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions will be considered anonymous, and all questioners will remain anonymous.