Meet Kezia Fitzgerald, Co-Founder, CEO, and CTO of CareAline Products
For this #WomenCrushWednesdays, in the last week of September, #AtTheTable has the pleasure of interviewing a woman with exceptional strength and tenacity.
In honor of September being both Childhood Cancer and Lymphoma Awareness Month, meet the amazing Kezia Fitzgerald.
Describe your business. What is its main goal/function?
Kezia: Our mission at CareAline is to improve patient safety, comfort and healing. We do this with innovative vascular access line securement devices — sleeves and wraps that hold lines off the skin and in place, stabilizing them both on and off treatment, 24 hours a day.
Our simple design has been clinically tested to reduce line complications, improve patient safety and comfort, and reduce healthcare costs. The majority of our revenue comes from selling our products to hospitals, but we sell directly to patients and caregivers on CareAline.com as well.
Why did you decide to become a female founder? What inspired you to start your business?
Kezia: I developed the products for a very personal reason — my infant daughter, Saoirse, and I were both diagnosed with cancer in 2011. The experience of dealing with my daughter’s PICC and central lines led me to making the first sleeves and wraps to keep her safe while she was going through her treatments. They were so effective, that other families, nurses and doctors wanted to use them — this is when I realized the problem was bigger than just our family.
Saoirse’s disease, Neuroblastoma, was very aggressive, and she died in December 2011 at 18 months old. While it was a difficult decision, my husband and I decided that the sleeves and wraps were too important, and we needed to help other kids and adults in Saoirse’s honor. We started CareAline in 2012, and have been selling our products to hospitals and directly to patients since.
What are the greatest challenges of founding your own business?
Kezia: Because I have such a personal connection to our products, and to the people that we serve, it’s difficult to work on something every day that came about because of terminal illness. Not only have we had to deal with grieving the loss of our daughter, but my own lymphoma — which had gone into remission in 2011 — came back in 2014, and I’m still battling today.
Grief and cancer and chemo take a huge toll on me physically and mentally, but because I know that others out there are experiencing the same things, and that I have something that can help them, there is no way that I could give in to the temptation to put CareAline on hold. I’m able to help our customers even more because I have experienced many of the same things that they have, and can truly understand when they tell me what they are worried about. I’ve been in their shoes, and it allows me to help them on a deeper level than even our products can do on their own.
There are always the days that I want to just give up, but those days pass, and there is always a reminder — a thankful email from a customer, or a phone call from a worried mother — to pull me up and refocus my energy on helping as much as I am able.
How have your experiences as a female founder shaped you?
The biggest thing that I have learned over this experience is to try and give myself a break. Women tend to take on more than we can handle, and when health is a concern, it’s not always the best idea to overtax your time and energy. I definitely fall into the category of taking on too much, and not realizing and acknowledging the accomplishments I have made along the way.
Celebrating those mini successes is something that I’m starting to learn and allow myself to do, and this has a huge impact on boosting my motivation for moving forward. Having great mentors helps to push those successes big and small to the forefront, allowing me to really see them, and not glaze over them or push them to the side while I stress about the next thing on the to do list.
It’s taken over 5 years of running this company for me to get to the point where I feel like I am really owning the experience and talking about the things I have accomplished, not just the story that got me here.
Growing up, what were your goals in life? Did you ever imagine you’d create something like what you created?
I never would have imagined I would run a medical device company. My whole life I was afraid of needles and hospitals. Luckily, I wasn’t sick very often, until I was diagnosed with cancer at age 26. I grew up dancing (my mom owns Andover School of Ballet, so I grew up in the studio), but when I went to college, I was between two passions — photograph and engineering.
I always loved problem solving and figuring things out, but art won my heart, and I went to Columbia College Chicago and received a BFA in photography. That’s where I met my husband, Mike, so we both came from art backgrounds — quite the jump to medical devices.
I think my foundations in problem solving were what helped me come up with the original sleeve and wrap. I simply used skills I had (sewing), and found a way to solve the problem I had (Saoirse using her PICC line as a teething toy and getting a rash from tape).
In all honesty, when I did it, it didn’t really seem revolutionary or “innovative,” it was just something that we needed. I think that’s where the best ideas come from — there’s a reason people say “necessity is the mother of invention.”
What’s next for your business?
The past year has been the biggest as far as growth goes for CareAline. We were in the 2017 MassChallenge cohort and won a gold award, and are an alumnus in residence for this years cohort at MC. We met an amazing mentor that we have now brought into our company to help us scale our hospital sales and launch two new products in our line.
These new products I have been working on to fit better into hospital workflow and protocols — taking feedback and listening closely to nurses and doctors and patients about how things have changed over the past 5 years, and how we can adapt to better fit into these improved workflows. We have seen a huge increase in hospitals looking for products that help reduce line complications both in the hospital and especially at home, and since CareAline was the first to create a clinically tested and effective line of products to do exactly that — while keeping patients comfortable and reducing their stress — we have seen an influx of orders and new accounts coming in our doors.
I’m looking forward to expanding into the adult hospital market. I know first hand how these products help adults (I use a wrap every other week when I go to chemo), and we have a large following of individual patients and caregivers who purchase our products directly from us, but our hospital sales have predominantly been in pediatrics. I’m excited to start to see adoption into the adult hospitals because I know those patients need our products just as much as kids do, and I’m really looking forward to helping them get through their time with lines no matter how short or long it may be.
Growth can feel overwhelming, but it’s so satisfying to be reaching so many more patients and helping so many more people. I think the thing I’m looking forward to the most is getting back on the sewing machine and working on new products to help even more patients. That is truly the part that I have the most fun doing.
What advice would you give to the next generation of women and girls looking to make an impact?
I have lead a workshop called the Young Innovators Workshop — it’s a mini hackathon that teaches kids how to approach solving a problem they have experienced in their own healthcare. I do this workshop because I want kids to feel empowered to make a difference in a situation that they may feel very powerless over the outcome. But it’s the little things that they can solve on their own that can have a huge impact not only on them, but also on their peers.
My advice to them is the same that I give to anyone who wants to make an impact — find a problem that you have experienced, that you are passionate about not letting anyone else have to endure like you did, and find a way to solve it. If you are invested in that way, you will never truly fail — even if you only help yourself.
Special thanks to Kezia Fitzgerald for sharing her amazing story
And especially for working to improve the lives of the children and adults around the world battling cancer.
If Kezia’s story touched you as much as it did us, follow her business on Instagram or Facebook @carealineproducts, or on Twitter @carealinetweet.