Earlier this year, as part of an ongoing process of improvement, Gus Gear upgraded the design of its Central Line Vest. While feedback has been positive, founder and CEO Sarah Palya says that change is still hard. For longtime users, the new design may take some getting used to, but they can rest assured knowing that nothing else provides security like it does.
In certain respects, Sarah is the reluctant CEO, meaning her heart doesn’t lie in the business side of things, but in what it does for you and your family. For this reason, she wants to include everyone in the latest updates about the company’s journey toward getting the Central Line Vest into and through clinical trials, adopted in hospitals, and, hopefully, covered by insurance.
We sat down to talk about the improvements and her motivation to make changes. She starts, “I’m speaking as a mom — that’s how many of you know me, and I’m thankful for that,” adding that part of the ultimate plan is to make this product accessible to everyone. “But to get there, we need to grow.”
Q: When you initially created the Central Line Vest, were you anticipating that one day you’d be making updates?
A: I never even thought I would sell the original version. It was just me and my sewing machine, making something my son needed. Since then, we’ve certainly grown. It’s easy to get locked into one point of view, but when you start talking to people, you start to see from other perspectives and find ways to incorporate those perspectives into your design. Now, we want to make it available to more kids. That’s the ultimate goal — reach more kids and help them have safer, more complete lives.
Q: Can you break down all the improvements that have been made to the design?
A: We made about eight major improvements to the design:
1) One of the biggest things we did was give users (both parents and clinicians) the ability to change the Vest without stopping infusion. Now, it just opens up like a coat. That’s a big deal because every time you open up the infusion, you risk a potential infection. Users have found they might need to change the Vest mid-infusion due to diaper accidents or vomiting. Or, a lot of our kids have an ostomy, and similarly, accidents happen that could present a huge risk of infection. By having the front closure, we prevent that risk.
The updated front opening also promotes independence in the older kids. They can put it on and take it off themselves now. Our older design didn’t allow for that, so as the kids got older, they would still need help, limiting their independence.
2) The second update is the custom-designed securement straps on our Safe Strip. Before, the method we used to secure the line was made of off-the-shelf parts that just happened to work. Now, we have a custom-designed strap system that snugs down to any diameter of line and any type of tubing.
3) Third, the new Vest is less bra-shaped, for lack of a better term. Essentially, we made it sportier, more unisex, and more discreet, so if a strap shows, it doesn’t necessarily look like a bra strap. Think of a teenage boy — if your shirt moves, do you want to look like you’re wearing a bra? Probably not. It just helps with discretion as all the kids get older.
4) Fourth, the new design is seamless, which means more comfort and breathability. We went from a method of construction that had really thick seams and a lot of fabric at the edges to something that allows air to pass through while still providing better coverage . No more chafing under the arms!
5) Fifth, we made the front flap of the new design dome-shaped so it doesn’t press the lines against the front of the child the way our old design did. Now, those connections and lines are not being compressed against the skin, potentially leading to pressure sores.
6) We’ve added multiple points for adjustments. Before, you really only had the back adjustments, now, you have a torso adjustment on either side, strap adjustments, and center adjustment. This gives you a custom solution for whatever kind of line and exit site you have.
7) Our custom-designed Safe Strip is completely removable now; if necessary, you can replace it without replacing the entire vest. We also created a Single Safe Strip that allows users to take the line and pull it around the back, securing it. Now, during an infusion, it’s tucked away from hands.
8) Lastly, for consumers who have been taught to dress their lines with the skinny part underneath the dressing, our old Vest didn’t work well for you. In some cases, it didn’t work at all. The new design works no matter how you’ve been taught to dress your lines. That’s a big win. You shouldn’t have to change what your team recommends to use our product, and now we’ve made sure that you don’t have to.
Q: How did you determine what changes to make?
A: It was a mix of personal experience, customer feedback, and clinician feedback. We had a lot of nurses in particular who weighed in on the design and how to improve it for kids whether they’re out-patient or in-patient.
We’ve worked on the design for years… literally! And that’s not to say we’re done either. We will always listen to feedback from the people who use it everyday.
Q: Did you feel any hesitation about making changes?
A: Of course. I’ve tweaked the design before based on customer feedback, but this is the first real major change. When I got the first prototype of the updated design to try on Gus, I had a moment of hesitation where I was like, “Wait, I don’t get to use the old version anymore.” I was comfortable with the old style, and I know customers were too. It makes sense — there’s comfort in the familiar. I adjusted though, and the truth is that the new Vest is significantly better.
As a parent with a kid who needs this kind of device, when you find a product you love, you don’t want to change. Even if that change is for the better, it’s hard. So, yes, I’ve had a lot of fear around the updates, but having tried it, it’s the overwhelmingly better option.
Q: Is there anything else you want your customers to know?
A: We still want to hear from you! Anything you have to tell us about the updated Vest, we want to hear because this isn’t a process of “one and done.” It’s ongoing and only getting better.