Diana de Avila,
co-developer of the Med Ready Tote
|Diana de Avila, asthma sufferer and co-developer of the Med Ready Tote, has had quite
an exciting life.
"I've never let much moss grow under my feet," laughs de Avila.
De Avila served in the Army as a Military Police Officer trained in special operations and counter-terrorism until she had a motorcycle accident that
required a nine-month hospital stay, giving her plenty of time for reflection on life.
"Being at the point of almost losing a limb and miraculously being able to keep it and change things, I made a decision to serve God and enter the
convent to become a nun," says de Avila. "After seven years, I discerned that I was meant to be in the world and worked towards that goal."
"I was diagnosed with asthma as an adult in 1989 while in the convent and working in a book bindery," says de Avila. "I believe that a series of sinus
and respiratory infections due to bindery paper dust and chemical agents pre-disposed me for asthma. I fought infection after infection. I recall some of
the first times after my asthma diagnosis that I did not have my inhaler handy while working or doing physical activities. My nun habit [attire] had few pockets and at times, my inhaler was left on my nightstand. Had I had a device like our Med Ready Puffer Tote, I think that I could have kept my inhalers much more accessible at all times."
After her time in the convent, de Avila undertook graduate studies to become a school psychologist and also taught herself Internet development. After
a brief career as a psychologist, de Avila ended up working for General Electric Global Research. At the age of 39, she retired in 2005 on permanent
disability after having been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and suffering from complications.
"It is important for me to keep my asthma under control in order to keep my MS stable," says de Avila. "I am very heat sensitive and it is important
for me to avoid fevers as these seem to exacerbate MS. Asthma makes it more difficult to manage my MS, and I suppose MS makes it more difficult to handle
my asthma. With the help of good medications and a regular regimen, I have gone nearly a year without a bad asthma exacerbation. For me, this is a
long time. If my asthma is acting under the radar, my MS has a better chance of staying stable. Right now it is. Controlling both of these diseases
means I have to do my best to provide a predictable and stable type of physical environment during most of my day. This means controlling
allergens and controlling climate to name two factors."
"I make sure to try to keep my environment as trigger free as possible," continues de Avila. "I use
special dust covers on my pillows and bed, I use air conditioning
frequently (this is needed for my MS as well), and use air purifiers around
the house. I handle triggers by using my prescribed medications (Advair and Zyrtec) to control my asthma. I avoid smoke-laden areas
and wood burning stoves. Although I love wearing perfume and some of them
really trigger me, I am very careful with it and use it sparingly and away from my face."
"I have a million and one allergies from environmental pollens to dust mites and latex sensitivity along with nickel allergy and other contact allergies. Perfumes, smoke, cold, humidity, laughing, stress - so many things can trigger me and throw me headlong into an asthma attack. I have cough-variant asthma, nocturnal asthma, and exercise-induced asthma. I've experienced times when I have cycled or played ice hockey and not had my inhaler. Not having an inhaler at these times can be especially frightening."
"When my asthma is not in control, I can easily respond to triggers and fall into a respiratory infection which turns into pneumonia," says de
Avila. "This has happened several times to me and has, in the past, cost me numerous work absences. Having my inhaler handy to assist in avoiding overt
triggers keeps me healthy in all respects. If I don't have an asthma-related exacerbation, I have a better chance of keeping my MS
stable (because I don't have a fever or infection and am not overheating). It's especially beneficial for me to be prepared for all the triggers
out there - and for me, there are a lot of them."
But having "a million and one allergies," asthma, and MS hasn't slowed de Avila down one bit. That's why she developed
the Med Ready Tote for asthma sufferers with active lifestyles.
"I have always enjoyed physical activities and played ice hockey, tennis, golf and cycled in the past," says de Avila. "The Med Ready Tote is ideal
for these types of activities. I enjoy traveling and am an avid musician who plays guitar, drums and enjoys singing. I love learning and inventing and
have an inventor's heart. Working for GE Global Research was a lot of fun for me - experiencing immersion into so many fantastic ideas and working with
so many brilliant people. One of my current projects involves researching, buying and selling used Guitars through eBay. I also bought a Nintendo Wii
around Christmas and find this both therapeutic and fun!"
De Avila co-developed the Med Ready Tote with business partner and fellow asthma sufferer Cecilia Ferradino after they could not find an inhaler case
that would allow them to maintain their busy lifestyles.
"The Med Ready Tote was designed to be useful in many different situations and be carried by many means," explains de Avila. "It can be clipped to a
purse or gym bag or backpack. It can be worn on a belt, attached to keys or any other range of ways that utilize a carabiner clip, d-ring, keyring or
"Remember how I mentioned that I don't let moss grow under my feet?" asks de Avila. "That is true with many things. I get an idea and I take it from
start to completion and I research the way to make it happen and make it real. This is exactly how I approached the Med Ready Tote. The idea arose
from an experience with a similar product that I had purchased that contained what I thought were deficiencies. It felt like there was not a lot of
thought put into the product. I got the idea in my head, received support and help from Cecilia, found a manufacturer willing to work with me on
prototyping my designs (this took months of work and redesign) and just went for it. Twenty-thousand plus pieces later, we had a warehouse full of our
little idea. It involved a risk. But we believed in our idea and were willing to take the risk."
De Avila explains that the Med Ready Tote was designed from a human factors perspective, and all facets of the product have been well thought
out: "Human factors explores how people interact with products. I am an explorer and inventor and am always thinking and trying to discover how things
can be made better and more accessible for many different types of people.
"Having multiple sclerosis has made me more empathic to some of the things that I would have probably taken for granted otherwise. Sometimes my hands
or fingers are numb or tight, and handling objects or fastening things can be extra challenging. This is one example of how a human factors perspective
was employed to govern the way we had the Velcro placed on the Med Ready Tote - to accommodate people of all different dexterity levels. You might see
dexterity challenges in the elderly or those who are very young. We developed the Med Ready Tote for most people and developed it in this
human-factors 'thinking' sort of way. The edges are very tactile, and the front tab helps to establish better orientation with the product. This could
benefit someone who is visually impaired or quite simply help a person find it inside their purse or backpack. 'Human factors' covers the different
ways people might interact with our product. We developed it this way to say, 'Yes, we put thought into making this' - and we wanted it to be
"Asthma is a tricky disease," says de Avila. "It's important to take the medicine that a doctor prescribes to stabilize asthma. It's equally
important to have rescue medicines handy. That's how our Med Ready Tote can help - to keep
inhalers handy to use when needed. The reason is straightforward, and the solution is simple: do what you need to do to accommodate that. We've created a solution we believe can help many people."
De Avila leaves us with these parting words of wisdom: "Not to be trite, but 'If life throws you lemons, make lemonade.' I've experienced a lot of
different things in my life, and the one stabilizing factor has been staying positive amidst physical uncertainties. Chronic diseases can cause
uncertainty and can be tough to handle psychologically. I believe it is important to explore them, understand them, embrace your condition, and keep a
network of those people who love you for the way you are and can support you. It's also important to continue to have fun and find the fun
experiences. Experiencing life is about more than the physical body - but I believe we have a responsibility to take care of it the
best way we can."
Originally published in the March 2007 issue
of Allergy Consumer Report.