These Momtrepreneurs Turned Tragedy Into Opportunity
In 2009, Natalie Dragotto and Jennifer Straiton sat in the waiting room of a pediatric specialist at the California Integrated Hyperbaric Center. The two had never met, but they had a lot in common. Both working mothers had children suffering from chronic debilitating illnesses.
Natalie's daughter, Gianna, suffered from a rare metabolic disorder called CDG1k (Congenital Disorders of Glycosylation), which caused her to have thousands of seizures a day. Jennifer's son, Levi, was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy, which also caused him to have thousands of daily seizures.
The two began talking, surprised to find another person with a child that suffered from the same affliction. An instant friendship was formed and the women began to rely on one another for support. That friendship deepened when both Levi and Gianna became pediatric medical cannabis patients.
From Skeptic to Advocate
Shortly after becoming friends, Jennifer told Natalie that under doctor supervision she'd been trying cannabis to combat her son's seizures. Natalie was unmoved. "Like many people at the time, she was against cannabis and thought it to be a harmful, illegal drug," recalls Jennifer.
But as the years passed, Natalie became desperate to find relief for her daughter. After watching one pharmaceutical after another fail, she decided to take a leap of faith. In 2014 she agreed to give Gianna her first dose of cannabis.
Over time, Gianna's daily seizures reduced by more than 90 percent through the use of medical cannabis. As a result, Natalie has done a 180 on her views about the drug—she now advocates for medical cannabis use and helps families all over the world who are struggling with the same challenges.
Although cannabis treatment has not been as effective for Levi, Jennifer continues to hold out hope.
An App to the Rescue
Unfortunately, the cannabis treatments aren't cheap. Says Natalie, “When I met Jennifer she had just sold all her furniture to pay for a pediatric neurologist appointment who said he might be able to help her child. This doctor was unsuccessful, but it still cost Jennifer over $3000 (and all her furnishings) for the appointment."
They both tried fundraising but found it unsustainable. "Sadly the money only lasts for a glimpse and then you have to fundraise again," says Jennifer. "Yard sale after yard sale became increasingly difficult. You use all your resources and have to ask the same people for help time after time."
To help pay "for the mountains of medical and treatment bills that we faced daily," says Jennifer, the two decided them need to create a scalable business model. Their solution: Invent a new series of apps that help children learn their ABC’s.
The concept was born out of a flash of inspiration when Natalie noticed that Gianna was able to interact with apps on her iPhone. This was no small achievement due to Gianna's limited cognitive level and ability.
The problem was there were very few apps that catered specifically to special needs kids. Natalie realized she needed to create more apps that Gianna, and other children like her, could play and learn from.
The two moms taught themselves computer programs in order to design the app themselves. They met to work on the app whenever they could, between their children’s doctor appointments, 2 am ER visits and hospital stays.
“To ensure our apps were exceptional, we researched with parents, teachers, doctors and various physical, occupational, vision and speech therapists,” explains Natalie.
Ultimately, they designed an app called Silly Spin ABC, which helps spark children's imagination through dynamic interactions and silly sound effects.
“We believe every child, no matter their ability, should be able to play the same games as their peers. All our apps must offer several modes or levels to match every child's abilities," says Jennifer.
After years of hard work and development, Natalie and Jennifer released Silly Spin ABC to market. The app, which is available on both Google Play and iTunes for $1.99, has been getting rave reviews and they say parents have been contacting them to create more apps.
“Our hope is for this app to be able to generate enough sales to be able to give our children the proper medical care and therapies that they need to heal to their full potential,” says Natalie.
They also hope Silly Spin ABC helps raise awareness of epilepsy and cannabis treatment.