Franklin — Being a nine-year-old with diabetes, Kyle Houlihan had a lot to carry: needles, test strips, an insulin pen, a blood glucose meter and juice and candy for low blood sugar.
Kyle was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 2010 when doctors gave him the medical necessities to treat it.
They also gave him a bag to carry them in — a small, gray pouch Kyle described as looking like "a purse."
"I didn't want to carry it around," Kyle said. "And even though I knew I had to have it, I didn't want to bring it with me and be seen holding it."
So he didn't. He often left the bag, and its essential supplies, at home.
Naturally, Kyle's parents were concerned.
"We were just learning about diabetes management and there are just so many supplies involved," said Kyle's mother, Kelly Easley. "We just thought he had to carry all of these (materials) around with him all the time."
In order to ensure their son felt comfortable enough to bring his supplies wherever he went, the parents began a futile search for something more accommodating.
"We looked all over for a functional pack that was stylish and blended in with the crowd," said Kyle's father, Tom Houlihan, in an informational online video. "Unfortunately, we could not find the right combination. At that point, the VitalPak was born."
For several years, Kyle and his father hashed over different ideas for a practical way to organize his diabetes equipment until they came up with a unique backpack concept: the VitalPak.
With the help of other family members, Kyle and his father developed a special prototype for the pack.
The VitalPak looks like any other backpack: shoulder straps, outside pockets, front and back zipper storage; but inside, there are special compartments that can help organize medications, personal identification and other materials.
The VitalPak also comes with a detachable — and fashionable — "Essentials Kit" that Kyle can bring to his eighth-grade classes at Forest Park Middle School.
"I can just throw it on and go," said Kyle, now 13. "It's nice to have on trips and for when I go outside. You can easily take what's vital."
"It's convenient and great to just have all those (essentials) in one place," Easley agreed.
The VitalPak is not diabetes-specific and can be used for people with asthma, allergies or simply a need for access to a first aid kit, Kyle said.
"My friends think it looks nice," he added, grinning. "In fact, I think they're pretty impressed with it."
Kyle, who is a two-time Youth Ambassador for the American Diabetes Association of Southeast Wisconsin, has presented the VitalPak at multiple ADA events, and interest is gaining momentum, Easley said.
More than 50 VitalPaks have been produced, and the family is currently looking to raise $40,000 by April 17 to help manufacture more.
Purchasing information can be found at myvitalpak.com, indiegogo.com/projects/vitalpak-medical-backpack or on the "VitalPak Medical Backpack" Facebook Page.
Donors who contribute at least $65 will receive a VitalPak for free, Easley said.
In the future, the family plans to donate a portion of VitalPak's annual sales to the ADA.
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