East Alabama Bureau Chief Elizabeth White Spratlin has reported on many area tragedies during her 10-year-career with WTVM News — murders, rapes and a certain tree poisoning to name a few. One of the more challenging scenes, however, unfolded last year in her own family as she watched son Mason, then 2, fight for his very breath. A diagnosis of Respiratory Syncitial Virus (RSV) coupled with Mason’s asthma created what Elizabeth describes as “the perfect storm.”
“Mason was hospitalized because his oxygen levels were so depleted. In order to get them up, the hospital had to use a mask over his face because the cannula was too big for his nose. But the mask didn’t work either,” says Elizabeth. She describes night after night beside her son in the hospital bed, coaxing him into sleep, only to have Mason roll over and dislodge the mask, setting off alarms. The nurse would rush into the room and adjust the apparatus while Elizabeth and husband Travis worked to comfort a terrified toddler. “Once we’d get him asleep, the same thing would happen all over again,” says Elizabeth.
To compound the stress, the Spratlin’s daughter Avery, then 5 months old, also caught RSV. “Mason was in the hospital 10 days while Avery battled the disease at home,” says Elizabeth.
Once recovered, both children required ongoing breathing treatments, a constant battle with the lively children who wanted to play. “We’d sit them on our laps and try to hold the mask over their mouths and noses. They’d fight it every step of the way, and I watched the medicine evaporate. Not only was it apparent the medicine was not going into my children’s lungs, it was like watching a lot of money float away. Trust me, the medicine is not cheap,” says Elizabeth, adding Travis tried hair barrettes, bobby pins, anything to keep the mask in place.
Enter Travis’s mother, Joyce Spratlin. “Before the kids could go back to daycare, I would babysit while Travis and Elizabeth worked which meant some of the breathing treatments were during my time. Mason was feeling better by then and in no way wanted to stop playing in order to take his medicine. I knew something had to be done. I prayed for God to show me a way to help these babies,” says Joyce, a seamstress. She ordered soft, hypoallergenic and washable elastic, and together she and Elizabeth created the prototype.
Elizabeth describes the first time she tried it on Mason. “I sat back and held my breath while Mason played with his trains. Not one time did he try to take off the mask or fool with it in any way because he was otherwise occupied. When the treatment was over, I realized every drop went into my baby’s lungs without one temper tantrum. I couldn’t believe it,” says Elizabeth. As the treatments continued, Elizabeth would call Joyce with modifications.
The Easy Breathing Band was born. Elizabeth and Joyce formed the company MasonAvery, Inc., named after the children who inspired them, and sought counsel from a patent attorney and the Auburn University Office of Technology Transfer. “If you’re an entrepreneur in East Alabama, you are a very lucky person. Our area has so many resources eager to help inventors and business owners,” says Elizabeth.
“Elizabeth came to the Auburn University Office of Technology Transfer about a year ago seeking advice and assistance in starting a business based on her invention,” says Dr. John D. Weete, assistant vice president for technology transfer and commercialization and executive director of the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation. “She showed us a very professionally developed marketing DVD illustrating the problems associated with the current breathing devices and the advantages of The Easy Breathing Band. Elizabeth is a delightful, passionately driven young mother who not only wishes to help her children, but also others who require breathing assistance through commercialization of the band.”
The Auburn Research and Technology Foundation is a non-profit, university-affiliated corporation formed to advance the mission of Auburn University, particularly in research and economic development. Located in the Auburn Research Park, it works closely with the Office of Technology Transfer in commercializing technologies developed from both the university research enterprise and local entrepreneurs.
“I am delighted we were able to assist Elizabeth as a local entrepreneur and look forward to seeing her company grow and be successful,” says Weete.
The business model includes a grass-roots campaign, an appeal to the ones who care the most — the moms. “Mamas are a powerful demographic. We can change the market by demanding better products. In this case, we just knew in our gut the treatments shouldn’t have to be this hard,” says Elizabeth. “Our children deserve better, and moms should demand better.”
The patent-pending product is simple. Thread the elastic bands through any medical breathing mask and slide the comfortable straps over the child’s head, adjusting the Velcro for a custom, secure fit. Kids are left hands-free to occupy themselves for the duration of the treatment.
Local mom, Kimberly Berry, praises the product. “I no longer have to hold down my Maddie Girl (2) while she screams during her breathing treatment. I was skeptical at first until I used it, and I was in total awe. It was like I was giving a totally different child a treatment,” says Berry who also recommends The East Breathing Band through her work at East Alabama Allergy and Asthma Clinic.
Although the product started as a benefit for children, the duo sees a market with the elderly population. “I envision someone who’d like their hands free to knit, or cook or even work in their garden. The Easy Breathing Band would allow an older generation the same hands-free benefit,” says Elizabeth. “The product fixes a design flaw in the breathing-treatment mask and oxygen-delivery apparatus.”
Both ladies show emotion when describing the impetus of The Easy Breathing Band. “I’m thankful I had the ability to help my grandbabies. They now strap on their own bands and cut on the breathing treatments, knowing they can still play. It’s not something being done to them, but something they are a part of,” says Joyce.
Two moms joined together for a love of two children. A product evolved from a refusal to accept the status quo. And a company formed on the premise that necessity is the mother of all invention. EAL
The Easy Breathing Band is
available in Auburn at Cutie Pie
and Our Home Pharmacy or online