Danvers parents win pediatric health pitch contest at SXSW

Michael and Kezia Fitzgerald with their son (Photo: Suzanne Kreiter, Globe Staff)
Michael and Kezia Fitzgerald with their son (Photo: Suzanne Kreiter, Globe Staff)

Local parents with a moving personal story and a simple idea to keep sick babies comfortable took the top prize at the Impact Pediatric Health Startup Pitch Competition at SXSW in Austin this week, winning over a tough judging panel of investors and executives from the top children’s hospitals in the country.

Judge and investor Mark Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks, selected the company as his favorite among the contestants.

The Danvers company, CareAline, makes two products — a sleeve and a body wrap that protects babies who have IV lines and or catheters connected to their bodies.

CareAline’s founders, Kezia and Michael Fitzgerald, first became acquainted with IV lines for toddlers when their infant daughter, Saoirse, was diagnosed with cancer. Like other babies, Saoirse would scratch and tug on the tube in her arm, risking infection or injury.

So Kezia, who was receiving treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma at the time, made a striped pink sleeve that would hide the line, and keep her daughter more comfortable. It worked. Other parents at the hospital asked Kezia for sleeves — she made some for them too.

After Saoirse died in 2011, the Fitzgeralds decided to begin selling the products to hospitals on a larger scale. About 15 hospitals are using CareAline’s products in select departments, and Children’s Hospital Colorado has committed to using them as a standard of care.

Last year, at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Shark Tank-style pitch contest, the Fitzgeralds were among the two winning teams. At the SXSW event this week, Cuban agreed to buy 1,000 sleeves, and brand them with the Mavericks logo.

Kezia Fitzgerald said she cannot believe the response the sleeves have gotten. “We started this business from a place of personal experience, a place of personal loss,” she said.

“For CareAline, it’s about helping the patients now — and we’re prepared.”

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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