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Transforming tube feeding: Innovations to help thousands, inspired by real patients

Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions plays an instrumental role in providing patients and caregivers critical tools they need for care in-the-home. This article is part of an ongoing series on the innovations, products and services the business delivers directly to patients’ doorsteps on behalf of its 5 million customers nationwide.

Unless you or someone you know requires enteral tube feeding (ETF), you may not know exactly what it is. In a previous article in our series, “Powering Home Healthcare,” we discussed what ETF is and how new ETF products have brought more comfort and flexibility for patients of all ages who require this type of therapy.

Cardinal Health is a manufacturer of enteral feeding devices, and our home care-focused distribution business, Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions, also delivers the latest leading enteral nutrition innovations and products directly to patients’ doorsteps across the United States.

“We aspire to maintain deep knowledge of the products we carry, the therapies they provide and most importantly, the real people who need them,” said Krysta Alexinas, vice president of sourcing and category management for Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions. “Just as important as the products is their accessibility to patients.” Alexinas leads the Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions team that manages manufacturer relationships and helps find, source and distribute top innovations. We recently sat down with just one of these manufacturers leading the way in innovation for tube feeding families nationwide.

Arkansas-based Misti Staley and her husband, Will Staley, had a normal, healthy pregnancy. When their son, Freeman, was born on April 25, 2015, he had a cleft palate in the roof of his mouth, which challenged breathing and feeding, in addition to other abnormalities – none of which showed on pre-natal ultrasounds. Post-partum genetic testing revealed Freeman had a severe form of Beals Syndrome – a rare connective tissue disorder that impacts mainly the musculoskeletal system. Someone with Beals may have crumpled ears, bent fingers or toes, scoliosis or permanent bending of other major joints, according to the Marfan Foundation.

“He didn’t show any outward physical signs common with Beals,” Misti Staley said. In his first few months of life, Freeman underwent seven surgeries. With a gastrostomy (G) tube placed into his stomach, he began enteral feeding during his stay in the neonatal intensive care unit.  

“We were completely new to enteral feeding – we didn’t know anyone else who used a feeding tube,” Misti Staley said. “At the hospital, you have an extra set of hands, but at home – you have to hold your baby, the syringe, their pacifier, the milk – and more. When we brought Freeman home, balancing everything at once was overwhelming, to say the least.” That’s when the Staleys’ backgrounds as professionally trained artists kicked in: Will Staley created the first FreeArm®Muscle in their garage, using wood to create an upside-down L shape. They connected this to Freeman’s crib and took Velcro and a ribbon to hold the syringe in place. They hung the syringe on a hinge so if Freeman began to breathe in fluid (aspirate), they could easily push it away to stop the flow of fluid and help him. (A syringe can be used to deliver fluid – like breast milk or formula – or feeding to a person’s feeding tube.)

“We needed an extra hand, so we created one,” Misti Staley said of the FreeArm Muscle.  

Misti and her husband are now founders of Staley House – Creator of the FreeArm®Muscle, inspired by their unmet needs when caring for Freeman at home. Their innovation, FreeArm®Muscle, holds gravity feeds, pump feeds and feeding administration sets and can easily be connected to strollers, hospital or hotel beds, tables and more, to bring more ease and freedom to daily tube feeding. Though Freeman lost his battle with pulmonary hypertension at just 10 months of age, his legacy lives on, his parents say, through the product he inspired that’s helping thousands of patients across the country. 

Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions’ Alexinas said the business prioritizes offering products that can help address unmet or unanticipated needs in the real world, like the FreeArm®Muscle. The business focuses on low-unit-of-measure products – in other words, small products that can fit in small boxes. Alexinas is leading the team that sources the products offered in the business’ enteral portfolio, including a variety of nutritional products and formulas. “Freeman’s life is a true reminder of why the work we do deeply matters,” she said. “As a business, we want to help bring exponential improvements in quality of life – and we see it as our responsibility to help make life-changing products like these accessible to our customers’ patients.”

Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions offers roughly 50,000 products in several categories – from enteral nutrition to diabetes, ostomy and urology, and more. Learn more about the business here.

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Cardinal Health is a distributor of pharmaceuticals, a global manufacturer and distributor of medical and laboratory products, and a provider of performance and data solutions for healthcare facilities. Subscribe to our News Alerts to get all of our latest news.