Spring semester sophomore year, Emily Levy wore a toeless sock around her arm—to class, weddings, sorority parties, and presentations. She wasn’t trying to make a statement. Rather, all she wanted was to fit in.
“I didn’t have the confidence,” the Babson College junior says. “I felt like I was sick.”
It’s believed that an infected tick bit Levy when she was in the seventh grade. It took seven years, however, for doctors to reach that conclusion.
“I was misdiagnosed so many times,” Levy says. “They thought it was mono. At one point, they thought it might be cancer, depression, or anxiety—everything but Lyme.”
Levy was diagnosed with chronic Lyme following her freshman year of college. By then, the disease had invaded her brain, forcing her to insert a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter—“basically, a long-term IV”—in her arm. To hold the PICC line in place, she cut the toes off her sock per suggestion of the Internet.
“I thought, ‘There has to be a better way to protect your PICC line,’” Levy says.
She carried her concern to the West Coast, enrolling this winter in Babson’s semester-long San Francisco program. Levy registered for a course called “Silicon Technology Ventures,” taught by adjunct lecturer Jim Poss, the founder of solar-powered waste management company Bigbelly Solar. After pitching her problem to the class, students started rallying around her.
The result was PICCPerfect, a medical dressing that’s fashionable, functional, and made of moisture-wicking, antimicrobial Spandex that features four-way stretch. The sleeve is reinforced with elastic to keep it in place, and, within the lining, there’s a hole for users to put their PICC line through.
“[Competing products] don’t allow you to do treatments on the go,” Levy says. “I had to do treatments in class, which is embarrassing, but also dangerous. I stayed in school, but most people drop out or take time off.”
Levy created a PICCPerfect prototype with Babson College senior Yousef Al-Humaidhi. The duo developed two solid and two patterned designs, before securing a manufacturer in the United States. And now, with the help of four fellow Babson students, the team has reached its $10,000 Kickstarter goal, with one week in the crowdfunding campaign to go.
That’s not all. Over the last month, PICCPerfect has been named Babson’s Student Business of the Year, won Purdue University’s The Big Sell entrepreneurship competition, and placed fourth in the Carnegie Mellon University Venture Challenge. Next, the team will be working to place PICCPerfect in the hands of nurses on the front line of treatment.
“We’ve been talking to a lot of nurses,” Levy says. “And they’ve been saying this product is absolutely needed.”
Customers agree. Levy launched a blog and accompanying social media campaign, called “Turning #LymeintoLemonAid,” to give others battling with chronic illness a voice.
“People have been sharing their stories on our blog and saying, ‘This is what I need,’” Levy says. “We’re looking for others to share their stories—people can feel so alone.”
Levy wants to create a community around PICCPerfect, as well as additional fashionable and functional medical accessories, whether medical backpacks, cane covers, or oxygen tank covers.
“I’m so passionate about helping people with chronic illness feel confident again,” Levy says. “Every day has its ups and downs, but I would do this for free.”
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