CareAline: A mother’s road to SXSW

The CareAline wrap, modeled by Lochlan Fitzgerald
The CareAline wrap, modeled by Lochlan Fitzgerald. Below, the CareAline sleeve.

Our daughter, Saoirse, was diagnosed with cancer when she was 11 months old. Her care, safety and comfort were our first priorities. When she had a PICC line and later a central line placed to infuse drugs and fluids, we saw a need for a better way to keep these lines safe and secure without using skin-damaging tape and irritating mesh netting. Saoirse was tugging at her lines and trying to pull off the tape, so I handmade a fabric sleeve for her PICC line and a chest wrap for her central line, and she went back to playing and being a kid.

Initially we figured that would be the end of it. But very quickly we were approached by nurses, doctors and other parents asking where I had gotten her sleeve and wrap and where they could get one too. We realized that this solution was something all kids, and adults, with PICC and central lines needed.

After Saoirse’s death in 2011, my husband Mike and I founded CareAline Products. We began the process of finding a large-scale manufacturing facility, incorporating as a business and marketing our garments to patients and hospitals—with no idea of the challenges we would face over the next two years.

CareAline SXSWThe response from nurses and patients was phenomenal. Everyone wanted to know how to get our products to their patients or into their hospital. Over that first year, we collaborated with both patients and nurses to improve our products. We were sure that we had a home run, and that hospitals would begin purchasing our products for all their patients.

But the medical industry is a little bit fickle. While the nurses we met at trade shows and online were desperate for CareAline to become mainstream, changing the practices of hospital purchasing departments and executives was another story. We were going up against the status quo, trying to completely change the way PICC and central lines are cared for. For hospital employees who don’t care for patients day-to-day, it was hard to justify making a change from tape (which is virtually free) to a garment that they would have to pay for and stock.

We knew we needed to get CareAline in front of hospital executives. We needed to show how our products could not only improve patients’ quality of life, but also save their hospitals money in the long run.

Our first big chance came in October 2014, when we pitched CareAline as one of three Innovation Tank finalists in the Boston Children’s Hospital Global Pediatric Innovation Summit. A successful pilot study of CareAline’s impact on accidental removals of PICC or central lines had just been completed at a Colorado children’s hospital—no patient had her line dislodged—so we were ready to share our products’ impact with industry leaders. CareAline tied for first place, and we were thrilled that our vision came across to the judges and the audience.

A second chance came last week: We were chosen as one of 10 finalists in the Impact Pediatric Health Pitch Competition at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. Meeting with our pitch coaches, we worked hard to get our story into a 3-minute presentation. We wanted to show how unacceptable the current solution of tape is and how our products are better not only for patients but for hospitals.

Finally, after four weeks of writing and rewriting, we made the drive from Danvers, Mass. to Austin, Texas. Despite sickness and delays enroute, we arrived in one piece. While Mike took advantage of his SXSW pass and attended some great panels, I wrangled our toddler and (when he let me) practiced my pitch. I wasn’t quite sure of myself yet.

I totally bombed the rehearsal. Completely lost my words, couldn’t focus back in and was a minute over time. I’m pretty sure that the organizers wrote me off and were ready for a similar performance the following day.

That evening, Mike and I spoke with one of the pitch coaches, who told us what he saw were our pitfalls, while also encouraging me to just go out there and tell our story. That conversation really helped to calm me down, and although we felt like we weren’t in the forefront to win the competition, we knew that we were going to make amazing connections with high level hospital executives and other industry leaders, and that just being there was a win for us.

Luckily, I come from the performing arts world (15 years of dance recitals will prepare you for anything), where we know that a terrible dress rehearsal leads to an amazing performance. I decided to get a few hours of sleep and prepare more in the morning. When I was awakened at 4:30 a.m. by a crying toddler (who then snuggled on top of me and fell asleep), it all clicked. I realized I just had to do it, and it didn’t have to be perfect. I ran through the pitch a few more times, but from that point on, I was ready.

Kezia Fitzgerald CareAline SWSW awardI felt great after that pitch. I owned those 3 minutes and felt I had gotten CareAline’s mission across. During the question and answer time, Mike coached me from the side of the room, and I felt I answered the questions completely. Then, it happened. Emcee Mark Cuban—the ABC “Shark Tank” celebrity and Dallas Mavericks owner—made an offer that nearly knocked me over: an order for 1,000 pieces imprinted with the Mavericks logo and introductions to the Dallas children’s hospitals. We were further floored when we were awarded the top three prizes: the first place winner from the venture capitalists, first place from the hospitals and the Mark Cuban award.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of people congratulating us, wanting to start conversations with us and wanting to work with us. We were on cloud nine and excited and humbled all at the same time. We have always known that CareAline sleeves and wraps are needed, but now, others know it too. The top four children’s hospitals supporting Impact Pediatric know that it’s needed and see the value in what we are doing.

Mike and Kezia with Mark Cuban
Mike and Kezia with Mark Cuban (all photos courtesy Mike and Kezia Fitzgerald)

The real hard work is just beginning. Now is the time to continue the conversations and find the hospital that wants to be the first to change the standard of care for its PICC and central line patients. It won’t be an easy road, but we are ready to change the way that all central venous catheters are cared for and make life better for patients like Saoirse.

For more innovations, join us at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2015.