A decade ago, I was a mom with a very sick child. My son’s health challenges required a product that did not exist, so with the spark of an idea and a sewing machine, I set out to solve the problem. I never imagined that what I created to help my son would grow into a product line that reaches families worldwide, but here we are.
Our story began when my son Gus needed a central line. I wanted to do everything in my power to ease the burden for him and for us as a family — any parent can understand, there was nothing I wouldn’t do for my son. My mind was spinning, trying to come up with a way to bring a sense of safety and normalcy to the hospital stays, clinic visits, daily infusions. Even life at home looked a little — or a lot — different than I had imagined, and I just wanted one less thing to worry about in the midst of medical chaos. Through trial and error, yards and yards of fabric, and a lot of late nights, I created a chest wrap that kept Gus’s central line safe and secure from accidental (and sometimes intentional!) pulls.
At that point in time, I never imagined that the product would be anything more or less than peace of mind for our family. However, as I got to know other moms and families who were in a similar situation, I began to feel an undeniable desire to do more, create more, and give more. While every child is unique, they have similar challenges too, including line pulls. I knew we needed to make this available to others.
The Central Line Vest is Gus Gear’s flagship product and over the past 10 years, our product line has increased to include G-Tube Wraps, ostomy pouch covers, and line covers, all items that our family has used on a daily basis at one time or another.
Today, our products are used in many healthcare facilities in the U.S. and Canada and shipped to families worldwide. Gus Gear is a dream I never knew I had… and it’s one that has come true. I’m so proud to serve families in this community.
As both a parent of a child with medical challenges and a sort of accidental entrepreneur, I learned some lessons that I think we should all hold close:
- Break free from limitations
I think back to those early days when the Central Line Vest was a simple wrap I created with minimal sewing, product design, or business experience. I could have viewed that as a limitation but I pressed on, driven by the goal of helping Gus, and eventually, many other children like him. I never set out to run a high-volume business that ships products worldwide, but persistence took me down that road anyway. When I get messages of gratitude from kids, parents, and older patients, I’m so grateful that I didn’t take a detour.
By using Gus Gear’s products, our hope is that children can break free from the limitations imposed by their diagnoses and live their lives to the fullest.
- Put the patient first
Patients guide everything we do at Gus Gear, both as product creators and as parents. They’re our reason for being, and each and every decision we make is viewed through the lens of improving their quality of life and outcomes, so they can thrive in spite of their medical challenges. My guiding light has always been to give families peace of mind, and the way to do that is to put the patient at the center of everything we do — just as parents and caregivers do.
- Trust your instincts
The Central Line Vest has undergone several design iterations since it was first created. Since nothing of its kind existed before it, I very well could have been satisfied with the initial product. After all, something is better than nothing. But something inside told me that it could be better.
I tweaked the chest wrap prototype we created for Gus to develop the Central Line Vest. It was a true labor of love — I sewed each and every product we sold by hand! With each stitch and every Vest, I knew it would help one more child live a safer, more carefree life.
The vest was — and still is — the only product available with this unique set of benefits for children with central lines, so I knew I needed to make it better and more accessible. With input from kids, parents, and healthcare professionals, I made adjustments to the design so it was more comfortable and secure. Since its launch, parents and clinicians have shared that the redesigned vest gave their children more independence and freedom despite their reliance on a central line.
Nobody knows your child better than you do, so trust yourself.
- Ask for help
While the Central Line Vest was first dreamt up and assembled by hand in my home, the design and function evolved, influenced by other parents, children, and trusted healthcare professionals who work with medically complex children every day. The spark of an idea can only be made better by asking for input from others who walk the same road and share a common goal.
All parents are superheroes — especially those with a medically fragile child. While we bear the weight of decisions, it’s critical to surround ourselves with the right people and resources to make the most informed choices for the health and wellbeing of our children.
- Take care of yourself
You know the saying: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” That’s entirely true of both entrepreneurship and parenthood. Putting the patient first and taking care of yourself aren’t mutually exclusive.
While I could have happily continued creating each vest by hand, I knew that I needed a manufacturing partner to be able to help more kids. By taking production off of my plate, I was able to focus on improving the design, making the products more accessible, getting them into the hands of more families, and building relationships with partners and stakeholders.
As a parent, you’ll be at your best when you invest in your own wellbeing, too.
What lessons would you share?