Paige Brattin: “If every person took the time to have a daily encounter with tragedy — we could…

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Paige Brattin: “If every person took the time to have a daily encounter with tragedy — we could see a lot more empathy and consciousness in this world”

The movement that I would like to see that could be incredibly impactful is — if every person took the time to have a daily encounter with tragedy — we could see a lot more empathy and consciousness in this world and it would create a lot of impact in a lot of areas. The daily encounter could be to make just a small effort to follow just one cause (Anything from forest fire prevention to funding for cancer cures), or follow just one influencer who is blind or sick or struggling with health on social media? It could be to follow an inspiring person who helps others on social media. My movement would be that if more people saw some of the pain in the world and/or conversely some of the efforts to ease pain that are happening and we did it daily, we could create a much more conscious society. It is all so readily available to us. We all take time for ourselves daily, many of us do it on social media — make that time count and learn about others and become more conscious — for humanity, for our planet, for our communities.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paige Brattin. See Worthy Patches founder Paige Brattin was born and raised in New Jersey, and has since relocated to Hawaii — where she’s flourished as an entrepreneur and lived for more than 20 years. The 44-year-old Jersey native studied English at the University of New Hampshire and received her master’s degree in education, initially channeling her passion for children by teaching for more than a decade at various levels.

Paige first cultivated her entrepreneurial spirit by founding her first company, “Hot Mama Maternity,” a maternity boutique in Honolulu specializing in accessible garments for women on the islands. She sold the business in 2008 and shifted her focus in 2009 to motherhood after the birth of her first daughter, Eddy, who inspired the creation of See Worthy Patches. Eddy was a thriving toddler with no symptoms at all of eye health issues until she surprisingly failed the Snellen test as a 5-year-old during an annual checkup. After determining that her many eye diagnostics were not stemming from brain tumors, Paige and her family were relieved to find they were only the symptoms of refractive Amblyopia — a treatable condition that stunts the development of vision. Treatment required her to wear an eye patch for several hours a day.

Shortly thereafter, See Worthy Patches was born. Paige is a devoted wife, mother, sister and daughter, and draws inspiration from her family — and families with similar plights. Her professional focus is solely on See Worthy Patches, and she relies on her experiences as an educator to connect with kids and parents who stand to benefit from her product. She finds personal balance by surfing and spending time on the beach, and maintaining a healthy, fit lifestyle as she raises her daughters. She enjoys listening to podcasts, baking, hiking and jigsaw puzzles. She’s also passionate about climate change and dreams of one day owning a beach house, although her husband isn’t exactly enthused about living near the rising sea levels. Until then, she’s residing comfortably on the outskirts of the islands and enjoying the beauty they provide.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Reinventing medical products was not something I ever would have imagined my path would be. But when your daughter is diagnosed as going blind just as she is entering kindergarten — and possibly due to brain tumors — everything changes! Thankfully tumors were not the cause and she is treatable- as so many children are. Knowing she would be alright, I promised myself I would do what I could to make sure any family going through this could have an easier journey. Soon on our path to treating her condition, we realized the current market options were terrible, outdated, and had not changed since the 70’s. My daughter, like most did not want to wear her eye patch. It is uncomfortable, hot, ugly, no one else has to, it hurts, the list went on. But I had to save her vision — so I had to enforce the patching with the antiquated adhesive patches that were on the market. Wearing them for less than one year confirmed — I had to do something about this! I set on the path of product development and I’ve innovated the shape, so the adhesive does more heavy lifting on the brow where skin is less sensitive. I found better materials that are more breathable making our patch less hot and more comfortable. We also changed the way the we administered the adhesives, so they are gentler and more breathable. We also created what we believe are more fun and on point graphics for kids. Because we found out so much later than most about her eye conditions, I felt it was really imperative to make sure I dedicate our mission at See Worthy to help others know about how important early detection vision screenings are. We give a portion of our proceeds to organizations like Project Vision Hawaii and Lions Clubs as they are most actively involved in communities making sure children are screened.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The most interesting story I can share is that when I was first starting out with this idea to create a better eye patch, I could not find anyone to help me manufacture it. Apparently, the USA hosts the largest facilities for bandage production (in Ohio and Florida) in the world — so I hear. Adhesive eye patches are a great deal like adhesive bandages. So, my first attempts were trying to source manufacturing here in the US. There were so many reasons I wanted to do that. It is the country I live in, standards I trust, easier than flying internationally to deal with it, it seemed like a patriotic thing to do, I speak the language, there was an impending tariff war I wanted to avoid, it just seemed like the way to have the most control over the product as well. But — as hard as I tried — no one in the US wanted my business. I could barely get a call back. But I wanted to make this product and help this industry. Helping children who fight blindness was and is my first priority. I knew a nice family through my younger daughter’s preschool who owned a band-aid factory in Seoul, I made efforts to make that work — and it did not. I was really frustrated. I was telling a friend and she said she had to introduce me to her friend she thought could help. We met; he helps with manufacturing for Patagonia — a company we can all agree has immense social impact. So, I trusted his advice and insight into manufacturing and production. He said he couldn’t personally help me but would connect me to a friend that could. That friend, Jason, and I talked about my eye patch idea for quite some time. After months of trying to develop this together, he called to tell me it just won’t work. The majority of his business is making products for the surf industry — boards, soles of shoes, gear. Again, I had hit a dead end. Disappointed and with no other leads, I decided to take a break and regroup.

About 5 months later I was on trip with my mom and my daughters and received a surprise call from Jason. He told me that he couldn’t stop thinking about the eye patches and how making surfboards was fun — but didn’t seem very socially positively impactful, and that after all the years in that industry, he wanted to try to do something alongside which could balance that. He said he had done a bit searching and found a factory who would help us. I hired his company to help with product development, often times Jason pushing me to differentiate my product further from others, which has turned out to be invaluable. It has been a perfect business pairing. We are now in our second round of production together. Jason has always supported my ideas and directions for See Worthy and I am grateful I can trust him to oversee the production.

What I think is most interesting about this story is that my intentions to do something so impactful, inspired others to do so as well and consequently join me on that journey. Years later we have forged a great professional friendship, and both feel confident about all the good See Worthy Patches is doing in the pediatric ophthalmology industry.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake isn’t that funny — but I had initially wanted to call my company “Malu Eye Patch” Malu is a Hawaiian word- which like most Hawaiian words has many meanings. The one that I had known first, or best, meant “shade.” It more exactly meant, “darkness, where lightness is covered,” which is exactly what occlusion is — the eye patch needs to cover light to occlude the stronger eye. I was trucking along with product development and marketing when some of the other meanings of Malu started becoming more obvious. One is a loin cloth and others mean “protected by that which is taboo” — some fairly clandestine word meanings which I didn’t think should be so associated with children- or children’s faces or healthcare. It is maybe a little funny visual to think about an eye patch that looks like a loin cloth on a child’s eye, or that those definitions almost slipped by. I’m glad we caught on before the business got too far underway.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

It’s difficult to gauge if my intentions and efforts have made a “significant” social impact — but I do know I find that all the work I have done is so rewarding and impactful in that almost daily I receive emails from customers — so grateful for our product. I hear from parents about how their son’s face used to bleed from the other brands of patches, or how their daughter is happy and not crying about patching because she can wear a mermaid patch. Knowing we are inspiring children to happily comply with their treatment and helping them see, family by family feels pretty significant. The impact is like more of a tide rolling in than a tsunami crashing as more families learn about us and see the difference our product makes on their difficult journey.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

Just a couple weeks ago I was at my local farmer’s market and ran into a neighbor who is a teacher. While chatting I mentioned how I had an upcoming fundraiser for ‘Project Vision Hawaii.’ (which is the primary early detection vision screening organization See Worthy Patches donating a portion of its proceeds to) This neighbor had tears in her eyes and was in awe as she responded to me that PVH had just come to the middle school she teaches at for a screening. She couldn’t stop thanking me and the organization for the help they had provided. Apparently 3 of her at risk students found out they needed glasses and Project Vision provided the glasses for them. She was so grateful for all that was done — now the behavioral issues, the low-level reading, and confidence issues were all on the mend. As a teacher, she felt this organization had impacted/ helped her more in the classroom than any other. This story was so impactful to hear. Being a really young company, it is really hard to donate — we just don’t have a ton of bandwidth for it yet. But I prioritize it. I actually sacrifice for it, because it is so important to me. I feel so tremendously lucky that I had the resources to help my daughter that I want to dedicate myself to helping others in a similar situation. For me, to hear that because I have this commitment to this tremendously impactful organization, I could help these students- and consequently their teacher, was truly heartwarming on a huge level. Because of my efforts the trajectory of these students’ lives has changed, their teachers’ job just got easier so she can do more, it just keeps snowballing!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

So, one of the most interesting things about amblyopia being the #1 cause of childhood blindness and the only way to treat it is to wear eye patches — is that eye patches are not typically covered by insurance. So most families fighting to save their child’s vision have to pay out of pocket to do so. It seems like awareness and legislature to change this should be easier. Ohio has the Ohio Amblyope Registry through the Nationwide Children’s Organization. It is a fabulous model of what a state can do to support the 1 in 45 families who need to buy patches. If other states could follow their example, it would be wonderful!

The second problem I would love to see solved is the gap between pediatricians and pediatric ophthalmologists. Most parents I have talked to have no idea that the American Board of Pediatricians advise all parents should take their child to an eye doctor by age 2–3. Most pediatricians I’ve talked to do not seem to know that either. So many parents believe their children are screened at the pediatrician’s office, when they are not. I recognize it is hard for some rural areas, and even some cities to have enough pediatric ophthalmologists to support this. Starting with an optometrist would be a great initiative too. But if more families considered overall eye health important, as a society we can prevent some vision impairing conditions, solve more behavioral issues and learning challenges. If the statistic is that 1 in 4 children go through elementary school with an undetected vision issue it stands to make sense that if more children had screenings — the jobs of teachers and schools would also become easier.

The third, and maybe most important issue I would love to see eliminated is the stigma of patching. I really want to use See Worthy as a platform to normalize patching. There are approximately 18 million children patching in the USA — but we rarely see them. I have first handedly witnessed my daughter experience the looks, questions, and often stupid remarks — usually from adults, not other kids. I had one friend ask me “if I would really let her wear it in public, that would look so bad.” As if letting her go blind was a choice for me. There is a major lack of sensitivity about the struggle of wearing an eye patch. Many families confine it to the privacy of their homes. We had to patch 8 hours a day- so that choice was not available to us. I have tried to launch an amblyopia awareness campaign. It has been a bit slow going. My goal is to have more figures in the public eye wear a See Worthy eye patch for social media posts with our awareness hashtags. #normalizepatching #amblyopiaawareness #coolkidswearpatches

I was really excited to see Modern Family include patching in one of their episodes last season, I wish See Worthy could have been the patch they used, or that we could help support other television shows or movies to include this portion of the population, and how to sensitively do so. There are so many ways we can talk about awareness — but really normalizing it is the only way for it feel more acceptable to those who have to wear the patches.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

The strongest way to lead — is by example. We have all seen this personally, in professional arenas, with our own parents, or being a parent, or in politicians. What leaders do, influences others, the strongest impacts are made by leaders. So when one leads with integrity, eloquence, efficiency, ambition, those below rise to that. When one leads with opposite values — the returns are often similar.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1- Pre-sales are really only good for fun and sexy products! — on our first round of production we hosted a pre-sale. There was a good amount of Instagram buzz about our new patches and a lot of parents were excited to try them. However, like most first rounds of production, we had a couple delays. Parents who are anxious to try a new medical product that could make their lives exponentially easier, do not have the same type of patience or long view as people ordering surfboards or face cream. While the average order was only about $25–50, many of our customers felts they wanted refunds for the wait as they needed the money to buy patches for the now, since they aren’t covered by insurance. There was no major fall out in the end — but I learned the concept of a pre-sale to get customers excited is totally different for the community that needs the product a bit more immediately.

2- Patents do very little to protect a young, small company. While I am glad, I took the time, money and energy to patent all the ways I innovated my product, it hasn’t seemed worthwhile yet. I always knew patents don’t necessarily stop anyone from using the IP you created but had hoped it might prevent that. When almost immediately after the release of my products a much larger patch company begin administering their adhesives the same way we do, I found there was little recourse and in fact my pursuing it could result in much bigger and more expensive problems for See Worthy. It’s like I’m Mom -vs- the Man. And at my size, the man is winning. I am playing the long game though — and know my intentions have always been better than theirs and that will prevail. Patience is as important as patents.

3- While what you think you are doing is the most important thing in the world, a lot of people don’t think so — or don’t care. And that sounds pretty negative- but really what I mean is, it is good to have perspective — every step of the way. Having that perspective can actually keep a young business on point and not let outside influences discourage you. There have been times where I felt pretty ambitious and confident, or even proud about the direction of my business and then learned about how many others cared way more about a new bikini company, cooking product, or tech company that didn’t really “help” anyone that much. By looking at their ‘self-important’ attitudes I realized my attitude wasn’t much different and that perspective was necessary to continue on the right path.

4- How to produce to scale — I haven’t made any major errors- and there is no great story — but being new to the type of business that manufactures I have had some challenges with finding the magical formula for this. I think I had heard that this is the hardest part of manufacturing but should have investigated the why’s/how’s more. Simply because the more any business owner investigates- the better off they are… I was lucky enough to be told, “you’ll never regret over researching when it comes to owning your business”.

5 — There’s will always be haters.
There are a few parent support groups on Facebook for families who have kids who patch. I have walked a fine line as a mom there and as the owner of See Worthy in these groups. I thought trying to remain anonymous about me being one in the same was a respectable separation. I thought it would be honoring the others and respecting the guidelines of the support group’s founders- because they ask for no endorsements. For example- many children’s faces chafe and chap and bleed from other adhesive patch brand. Children with sensitive skin have had a 100% positive response to See Worthy Patches. So sometimes if a parent posted about their child’s face having skin issues, I would try to advise trying See Worthy patches by asking if they had heard of them- so I wasn’t a personal advertisement. I was trying to be respectful — but it all wound up biting me in the rear- because apparently some moms felt that was being sneaky.

All the other parents would suggest using coconut oil or milk of magnesia on their children’s faces before patch application. I didn’t understand — I worked for years so families could have a patch that did not require a pre step and would also never hurt the tender skin under the eye. Why would parents choose more steps and harsher adhesives? So, I tried to pose this question as
sensitively and non-judging as humanly possible and apparently it was an invitation for all internet trolls to attack See Worthy. While my brand is competitively priced it is a couple dollars more. But parents do not need to purchase additional oils or milk of magnesia to support my patches — so frankly it is more cost effective. But it is hard to argue with people who have their mind made up.

I remember the day when the troll explosion happened. I felt so deflated and discouraged. I had put so many years into creating this and all the while my goals to help seemed for nothing. But by the next day I could remind myself that today’s newspapers are tomorrows fish wrappers- and if you can’t take the haters — you can’t be in business. I hold my head high knowing I was trying to help and if these people cannot see that, it only takes away from my time helping others to engage with the haters.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have given this question a ton of thought- and I feel like every answer I have comes up short. I would love to be able to have some world changing idea to make everyone everywhere happy, healthy, global minded and earth saving beings. But I don’t have a singular answer or idea.

Though, one thing I thought of is this one Instagram account I follow @TheAbleFables. The owner posts about children from all over the world who have rare conditions, sometimes horrific to see. I remember seeing a post once that showed a baby born with just one eye, and my then 4-year-old happened to see it. Her response was pure love and empathy, and she has since asked me about that baby so many times in the past 3 years, it has made me think about how impactful it is for all of us to see that yep of tragedy.

@TheAbleFables account had been shut down by people complaining the images were too harsh to see. When that happened — it broke my heart — this woman trying to do so much good and others who simply can’t take the tragedies of others’ lives try to stop her. I believe it has since been reinstated.

Because so many families who have low vision kids caused by other medical conditions follow me on Instagram, I see some pretty serious stuff families are dealing with — frankly way harder than anything I have ever had to. I think of my friend who has a son with Cornelius DeLange Syndrome and how many families have such worse circumstances than most. And then I think about how many people we all know in day to day life, who by no fault of their own busy lives, are just so self-consumed they just won’t even know these conditions exist.

The movement that I would like to see that could be incredibly impactful is — if every person took the time to have a daily encounter with tragedy — we could see a lot more empathy and consciousness in this world and it would create a lot of impact in a lot of areas. The daily encounter could be to make just a small effort to follow just one cause (Anything from forest fire prevention to funding for cancer cures), or follow just one influencer who is blind or sick or struggling with health on social media? It could be to follow an inspiring person who helps others on social media. My movement would be that if more people saw some of the pain in the world and/or conversely some of the efforts to ease pain that are happening and we did it daily, we could create a much more conscious society. It is all so readily available to us. We all take time for ourselves daily, many of us do it on social media — make that time count and learn about others and become more conscious — for humanity, for our planet, for our communities.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When someone shows you who they — are believe them. — Maya Angelou

Personally, socially, professionally, we all have had encounters with acquaintances, friends, and even family who can disappoint and hurt us. It is important to know the difference between mistakes a good person makes and the bad intentions of someone who is not on the same moral playing field as you. It is the only way to protect your heart, your reputation, and your goals.

Finding out your daughter is going blind as she enters kindergarten really boiled down who my true friends were. It was a really tough pill to swallow, and I needed support. I was living in a fast-paced city where most people are pretty consumed with their own daily grind- naturally. It was an isolating time for me. The friends that were there for me, that weren’t afraid of it, the ones that checked in, the ones who didn’t criticize the idea of wearing a patch in public, the ones who tried to empathize — really allowed me to have perspective on what real friends were and who could and should be in my circle to support me on the journey to create See Worthy Patches.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

MADONNA #MADONNA #MADAMEX. As a girl of the 80’s Ive always looked at Madonna as a big inspiration. While controversial, I believe she has done more to empower women than most recognize. I also think she is a business genius. However, lately, she has done little to yield her influence on any modern-day issues. And now, her new personality, Madame X — wears an eye patch — I have so many questions about that — so I think its a very great start to a private breakfast conversation!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

See_Worthy_Patches on Instagram
@SeePatches on Twitter
See Worthy Eye Patches on Facebook

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Paige Brattin: “If every person took the time to have a daily encounter with tragedy — we could… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.