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Cinde Dolphin – Kili Medical Drain Carrier – From Cancer Survivor to Inventor

Borrower Stories

Today, when we think of patients, we think of people wearing hospital gowns with IV tubes strapped to their wrists. But in the original Latin usage, the word “patient” had a much simpler meaning. A patient was “one who is suffering”—someone who is defined by their sufferings, unable to do anything about them.

Entrepreneur Cinde Dolphin strove to do something to change that.

With her original product the Kili Medical Drain Carrier, she addressed a need to restore mobility, safety, and dignity to post-surgical patients.

Solving a post-surgical pain point

For those unfamiliar with surgical drains, here’s a bit of background: After an operation, patients will sometimes require a medical drain, a plastic bulb that siphons fluids away from the area of operation. These medical drains are unflattering but necessary.

I’m offering a way to disrupt the system, make it safer, and also return some dignity to the patient.

Cinde at her office.

The traditional way to deal with them has been to pin them onto a patient’s gown or clothing. But that’s not much of way—Aside from looking and feeling cumbersome, the drains need to be repinned often and if pierced by the safety pin, they lose their vacuum and functionality.

“I’m offering a way to disrupt the system, make it safer, and also return some dignity to the patient,” said Cinde Dolphin of her product. And indeed, the carrier does just that—with its lightweight mesh and one-size-fits-all apron shape, it is a convenient solution for carrying medical drains. Patients can wear it under their clothes and even in the shower. It restores mobility and the appearance of normalcy, and with it, dignity.

Cinde recalls some of the feedback she’s received from patients who have used her product:

I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done if I hadn’t had your product. It made all the difference in me wanting to recover, come back to my normal life, than staying in bed and feeling miserable.

From a Patient to an Inventor

When we asked Cinde whether she had experience in the medical field, with a smile she said no. Her insight on surgical patients’ needs came from a place even closer to home–being a surgical patient herself.

A survivor of 4 cancers and 9 surgeries, Cinde knew firsthand the challenges a patient faces. “After surgery, it’s awkward, and you’re not feeling like you’re in control of your life. And having drains pinned to your clothing just makes you feel even more embarrassed,” Cinde shared of her experience.

In fact, it was in the hospital after a surgery that she began her first prototype for the Kili carrier: a homemade canvas apron with a pocket. At the encouragement of the nurses, she moved on to develop more prototypes, experimenting with fine laundry bags from the dollar store and then finding manufacturers to make her final design.

In the end, she came up with a product that solved all the problems she struggled with as a patient. “I’m really proud that there’s something that is developed by a patient that responds to a need that they have, that can really make a difference in their lives.”

Promoting her product: Perseverance and challenging the status quo

The next challenge was marketing this new product. Although physicians and nurses loved the carrier, Cinde had to fight to get hospital material’s management teams to switch up normal protocol and invest in her innovation. For one hospital she persisted for 19 months—19 months of phone calls, visits, smiles, and cookies—until they finally agreed to purchase the Kili carrier.

Talk about patience.

And that patience has really paid off—today, Cinde receives many appreciative emails from patients whose lives she touched with her product. The impact is widespread. But the greatest impact reaches across borders and is even more remarkable.

A small business that touches people across the world

When Cinde shared with us the origin of her brand name Kili, an unexpected story came out. The name honors women from a village at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, who call the mountain by the abbreviation “Kili” and whose husbands work as porters for the climbers. How are these women connected to Cinde, a woman worlds away from them?—by none other than her medical drain carrier.

Cinde, who was working with them, showed them the product, and they offered to weave a version of it with their homespun threads and treadle sewing machines. These handwoven carriers became in such high demand for various uses around the village and beyond, that the women were able to make small businesses out of them. The resulting revenue, along with the support Cinde provides from her business, allow the women to send their daughters to school, potentially changing the very trajectories of their lives.

Small business. Big impact.

Getting a loan to execute on her vision

When asked, though, Cinde wouldn’t say she did it all herself.

“I can’t say enough about some of those wonderful agencies that are giving advice,  counsel, coaching, to small business,” Cinde stressed. Early on, she had worked with organizations like Small Business Development Center, who gave her a critical leg up in the concepts of entrepreneurship—“a college education in a matter of months,” as Cinde describes it.

Later, she reached out for a loan from mission-based lender CDC Small Business Finance, a CNote partner, which allowed her to purchase crucial inventory and implement marketing efforts at a critical time. It was through the loan that she was able to attend nursing conferences to raise awareness of her product, and hire a contractor who handled communications.

“They all worked together in a wonderful tapestry to get me to where I am now,” said Cinde, in appreciation of the organizations who held her hand through the entrepreneurship process.

That tapestry weaves in the threads from many different stories, from Cinde, to countless surgical patients, to even a village in Africa. It is the brightly colored tapestry of impact.

Today we invite you to weave your thread into the tapestry too, by investing in CNote and contributing to another story like Cinde’s.

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