“After Raymond died, some people thought I should get over it. But you never get over the death of a child,” Elaine Plotkin told me.

Elaine’s son Raymond was a freshman at UNM in the fall of 2009, the year the H1N1 flu took the nation by surprise. Raymond got his regular flu shot on time, but unfortunately the vaccine did not yet cover the new strain. Even as the CDC scrambled to create a vaccine for the deadly H1N1, Raymond contracted the new flu, and in spite of heroic work by UNMH medical staff, H1N1 took his life. He was just six weeks shy of his 19th birthday.

Elaine and Ronnie Plotkin don’t want any more parents to lose their children to flu. They started a flu shot awareness campaign called “Take One for Raymond.”

“We are providing Raymond a living legacy by lending his story,” Elaine said. Their efforts in New Mexico and Texas and across the country have resulted in many people getting immunized who never did before.

This means a lot to the Plotkins, who are acutely aware that the flu does not discriminate.

“Our intent is not to scare anyone,” Elaine said. “We want to raise awareness and get people to at least think about getting a flu shot.”

Every year since Raymond’s death, Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) has dedicated its flu shot clinics to the young engineering student. This year, we have a very special addition to the event. Raymond’s parents are flying in from Texas to help anyone who wants to participate in “Take One for Raymond” this Wednesday and Thursday.

Raymond would have graduated from the College of Engineering this past May. His father, Ronnie, flew to Albuquerque from their home in Texas to attend the graduation ceremony. Ronnie had not been here since his son was in the hospital. He sat silently in the auditorium as Raymond’s name was read and his story shared before the actual graduation ceremony began. That ceremony took place over Mother’s Day weekend, and Elaine was not quite ready to return to Raymond’s home away from home. She stayed in Texas, not far from Raymond’s older brother, Jason and sister-in-law, Aliza.

“Since Raymond died, our lives have taken a different path than they would have,” Elaine said. Grieving has been a difficult process, but “we have made progress,” she said, thanks partly to their involvement with Compassionate Friends, a nonprofit organization that brings together those who have suffered the death of a child.

Raymond died on a Wednesday, was buried in Houston on Sunday, and the Plotkins attended their first grief support meeting with Compassionate Friends on Tuesday, two days later. They have become very involved with the organization, to the point of Ronnie serving on a panel at the national conference in Boston this past July.

“It’s a club no parent wants to belong to,” as Elaine describes it. Compassionate Friends has been deeply important to the Plotkins, although, of course, “I would give it all up in a minute if Raymond could be here,” she said.

Elaine is ready to come to UNM now. She and Ronnie see visiting Raymond’s beloved university as an important part of their grieving process. But they are also coming “as a tribute to Raymond” and to lend a hand with the “Take One for Raymond” flu clinics.

They will be here Wednesday and Thursday, helping to sign up the hundreds of students, staff and faculty that regularly take advantage of the free immunizations.

The Plotkins, who also established an engineering scholarship in their son’s name at UNM, won’t be getting their flu shots here. They already took one for Raymond.

“Take One for Raymond”
free flu shot clinics
For anyone 18 years and older
Wednesday & Thursday
Oct. 23 & Oct. 24,
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
SUB lower level

Dr. Peggy Spencer is a physician at Student Health and Counseling. She is also co-author of the book “50 Ways to Leave Your 40s.” Email your questions directly to her at pspencer@unm.edu. All questions will be considered, and all questioners will remain anonymous.