4x Cancer Survivor to CEO/Founder. Patient-led Innovation


    Subscribe on all major podcast players:


    What if the next time you went to the receive healthcare at a clinic or hospital, you came out with an idea to improve the patient's experience? That's what Cinde Dolphin did.

    She's a 4x cancer survivor and CEO/founder of KILI Medical Drain Carrier. Between surgeries, she went to a dollar store to begin prototyping a device that would improve her experience as a patient.

    Her nurse team loved it. Her doctors loved it. What followed was her journey into entrepreneurship in life sciences.

    Cinde shares her with story, which is an inspiring one, from patient to founder.

    Some takeaways:

    • Involve patients in feedback and solutions to improve their experience.
    • Clinical proof is crucial even for "low tech" devices and solutions.
    • Prototyping can be scrappy to get initial data, don't overlook simple things at the dollar store.

    Show Notes:


    Robert Fenton: [00:00:20] Cinde Dolphin is the CEO and founder of KILI Medical Drain Carrier. She's also a member of the Academy of Oncology Nurse and Patient Navigators. She likes to challenge the status quo. She's a four time cancer survivor and she's been through nine surgeries. Her malady was a catalyst to create a simple, yet elegant solution to manage post-op drains and improve upon the 50 year old conventional protocol, which involved attaching drains using safety pins.

    Cinde enjoys speaking to the medical community, as well as to the general public about the importance of patient innovations or from their experience, the insights they gain, create solutions, which help others with the same medical issues that they suffered. These former patients are determined that others will not have to contend with the problems that they had, and she believes truly in paying it forward. Today, Cinde shares her with story, which is one that I think will inspire many out there.


    Cinde, really excited to have you here today. Thank you so much for joining and sharing your story. One of the most exciting parts of my job is getting to support companies like you and learn from, you know, what people are doing to take life-saving products to market and, and do that in a way which makes real positive good on the world silt. So thank you very much for joining us today.

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:01:34] Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the journey. It's been quite interesting, and I encourage others to take this entrepreneurial journey. It seems overwhelming when you start, but it's well worth it, in the end.

    Robert Fenton: [00:01:49] Yeah. I could spend hours asking you questions, but I think the, the big one here is before I dive into your background and the journey, could you maybe tell us a little bit about, you know, how you're helping people with say KILI Medical Drain Carrier.

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:02:01] So this basically like came out of my own need. I am a four time cancer survivor. I've had nine surgeries that required me to have these medical drains after surgery. And it's often used in bariatric surgery, cardiac surgery, and it is usually not explained to the patient that when they come out of their anesthesia, they're probably going to have these octopus-like contraptions that are attached to their body. And then they have to wear them for three to four weeks, sometimes months after the surgery. And they're basically about the size of a hand grenade. And they're a bulb that is based on suction principles. So when they're collapsed and cap and attached to a drain line, they siphoned away fluids from the surgical area, assuring there's no complications or infections.

    So, um, they were invented 50 years ago, by a couple of surgeons and they had been very successful over the 50 years. However, the management of those drain bulbs has not improved. And the protocol is to give a patient, a safety pin and told to pin the bolt to their clothing or to their house gown or whatever.

    And, um, number one, a safety pin is just not a safe thing to have in any time you're in a hospital environment. But two, they're not very safe. And then when it's time to either shower or change clothes they're, they fail. There's nothing to pin to. So I knew going into my final surgery that I was going to have to deal with these drains.

    And so I asked permission to bring a Home Depot canvas apron, and they allowed me and the nurses were just amazed. It was far more useful than pinning the drains to the patient's gown and they encouraged me. They said this would be something that we would use. And so the only hold back was that when you're showering, you can't wear a canvas apron into the shower.

    So I came home from that surgery and this is going to sound goofy, but I went to the dollar store and started buying materials that I thought might create something that would work. And sure enough, these laundry bags that you use in the washing machine, I deconstructed and reconstructed them and got them into kind of a, a construction of an apron, similar to the Home Depot apron, and then, put long strings on them so they could fit any size.

    And then I was fortunate enough that UC Davis Medical Center was willing to prototype it for me and try it out with some of their patients. And it came back extremely positive and not only for the patients, but the nursing teams found it far more efficient for them, because you can imagine it takes quite a bit of time to unpin and repin.

    These drains may have to be emptied three to four times a day. So that's how I came up with it. It was out of my own need. And, it seems as though it's working and we're now in a number of hospitals and growing all the time.

    Robert Fenton: [00:05:23] That's incredible, uh, story. Must've taken a lot to kind of go through all of that and still have the creativity to solve a problem.

    Do you have a background in this? Is this, is this like looking back on your career? Like, are you, are you qualified I guess, or did you just, um, you know, you saw the need and you started noodling on the problem.

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:05:44] Yeah, my career was in adult beverages. So it was not even near being the life sciences.

    Although I can't say there's anything wrong with being in adult beverages that can maybe help sometimes, but no, this was not my, this was not my path. This was not my journey, but I felt that after my last surgery, I chose to step away from a career in corporate life and come up with an answer to help others. And the kind of testimonies I get from people on how it really improves their life makes me think I did the absolute right thing. It's not been easy. I really had no idea how to create a company or a business, but I've learned along the way, and I've been very fortunate. There have been mentors who guided me. I've had help from things like the Small Business Administration and retired executives and startup community has been really wonderful about gathering around and, easing me into this whole new world that I had no idea I was going to enter.

    Robert Fenton: [00:06:51] I see that a lot actually is that sometimes the right person to solve a problem often needs to come from outside the problem area, because you've, you don't have any preconceived notions or solution. You come in and you might go, well, it's these apron bags we want why not you, something like that. I think if you've been in an industry for a couple of decades, sometimes you, you miss those solutions in front of you.

    So it's, it's something we've learned. And I love to see what you've been doing this now for for for a few years. Right. how would you describe what you've learned along that path? I think that's for the listeners would be really useful for them to

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:07:26] hear well, don't assume that your product is going to light the world on fire.

    I did, and I was quite disappointed when I found out that they weren't waiting for me to come up with this invention. And so it took a bit of an emotional toll on myself. To find out that I was going to have to work so hard at it. I really thought that it was going to be a product that would be licensed by a much larger medical supply company.

    And it would be breezy for me, but it wasn't. And there wasn't the kind of preparation that I needed from the corporate world. I had been a cog in the corporate corporate world, but never had to develop a P and L statement or come up with the infrastructure that was required. So, be humble as you enter in, have great expectations that eventually it's going to work, but understand that there's going to be a learning curve for you and for your product.

    And, now I got through most of that, but I'm still learning on. I see where I really needed to do quite a bit more research about how to create a launch for a startup than I did.

    Robert Fenton: [00:08:36] That's in healthcare outside of healthcare people often think that, you know, build it and they will come as often be the answer of people who have a product that they've built to solve the problem they have. But I think an important lesson there you learned is even when you solve a problem in healthcare, which is incredibly impactful, it's still not all the answering go to market and how you get things in people's hands is important.

    I'm curious as to you know, those little points. What made you kind of push through those? I think that's a big part of everyone's kind of entrepreneurial journey.

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:09:07] Well, there's still days. It's true. I go back to bed, but, um, generally it's because I know I'm making a difference. And I think people in health sciences have the that opportunity that you wouldn't end the adult beverage community or in a lot of other verticals.

    This is really a place where you can make a difference in, um, healing or treating or anticipating. So that's what keeps me going. I get testimonies from people. I know that people are getting better, faster because of our product and that prevents me from getting too low emotionally. I just know that this is going to be used by people.

    And now we're getting contacted by the actual decision makers, the surgeons, the medical administrators who realize this is a much better way of addressing an issue than just giving safety pins.

    Robert Fenton: [00:10:05] Yeah. Uh, I was doing the research we did before this, the current status quo is like 50 years old. Right so it feels like it's about time for some, for some positive change. And if it took 50 years for this to happen for you to build something, that's, that's better than safety pins, which, you know, feels like a low bar, but it sounds like you've go something that's way up there. Where's it going right now like what's what are the trends that you see and watching people be thinking about in this area?

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:10:33] So I'm glad you asked because I call myself a patient-entrepreneur and I think there needs to be more engagement of patients in solutions to day-to-day medical issues. I really think that the patient maybe has the right solution that large corporate or commercial medical suppliers don't even know exists. So in this environment of COVID-19, I hope that we're in, we're inviting the patient to participate in the development of ways to go forward. So there's just an invaluable resource in learning about the day-to-day issues, which aren't the high tech ones.

    We need the high tech world to come up with the AI, but we don't encourage there. Be low tech answers. Just some, some issues that happen that really only have simple answers, but we need to engage the patients in the R and D process and make sure that it's called "human centered design," that we're wearing the shoes of the person who's going to be actually using the end product.

    Robert Fenton: [00:11:41] I think it should be important to maybe put a pin on that and just maybe focus on for a sec, one of the trends we see is that there's a democratization happening, I think, in healthcare, right? Like on the last areas to see if it is, but bringing in patients, going direct to consumer, uh, all those trends we're seeing, I think are creating an abundance of options for people. So I think it's exciting and I wonder if you look at the industry what's making, what's making it difficult for people to bring in patients and that could we call it our customers the best free inspiration we'll ever get. In healthcare you have people that are all incredibly enthusiastic about giving feedback and sharing their personal stories, but not quite is it that stopping people from doing that?

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:12:22] Well, I can say that there is some openings doors that are occurring with some healthcare providers. They're actually developing innovation centers that are a part of the hospital complex or campus. And so I'm encouraged that they're seeing the value of the patient in the entire innovation process that we can bring the entire community together to talk about.

    What needs to be developed. And so, yeah, there's probably people who are resisting it. It may be old school medical people. But I think the millennials and younger are seeing that, bringing the best minds together. And that might include people who are actually going through a traumatic, diagnosis coming to the table and talking about it is going to bring a far better solution than just eliminating or not even talking to them.

    Robert Fenton: [00:13:19] I think we see that in every case, diversity of thought brings more progress and better products. Uh, But when talking about the hurdles. So we spoke about, you know, finding distributors at being able to work directly with patients and the other end on the product. When it comes to an area we spend a lot of time on is like quality and regulatory compliance, the overhead or the board and of companies demonstrating these are safe, they're effective, they work consistently. Did that impact you at all? Is that an area you've had to fight through as well? I'm curious how your, your story intersects with that part of the healthcare.

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:13:52] Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. It's been a major barrier for us to reach, as many patients as we could possibly reach because it is not approved clinical solutions.

    So if we could do some sort of clinical study it would be far easier for us to get into the healthcare system, but we're really more like, um, I compare it to a sling at somebody breaks her arm, then it's much nicer if they have a sling to suspend that arm. So there's really not a clinical study that proves that, but it just is common sense that it would make me more, um, and make it much easier for the patients.

    So, and we don't have the resources to do a clinical study, so yeah, we do face barriers because value analysis committees in hospitals are always looking for a way to prove to the administration that they'd got a far better way of doing things. So, I think however that we're working from the ground up, that we have patients who go back to their medical team and say, this helped me, isn't this something that you should be using on a regular basis with your other patients? So, and you know, not having clinical study is difficult, but having patients do the kind of, educational process for you, is invaluable.

    Robert Fenton: [00:15:17] Yeah, I think advocacy at that level is probably the most important thing. And I'm sure for people listening, it's interesting to note that even a thing like, you know, th the drainage storage or holding that that is actually needs to clinical proof need to just for ROI with that. And it's one of the big difficulties people often don't think about when looking at healthcare.

    And I think your story and stressed out a lot. I could dig in down incredibly deep on that, but I'm aware of that we don't have all day and I'm not sure everybody wants to hear about digging down into there. So we'll be moving on from that.

    I think a few takeaways from this might be useful for people. And I think you've got some really interesting insights coming into this world the way you have and, and, and in terms of your own direct experience. What are some things you think that those of us in life sciences or people like you, or the broader market, what we've watched, should we start doing right away?  

    New call-to-action

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:16:06] Listening to patients really is the key, to bring, insider knowledge in, um, but weigh it. I mean, I know that there has to be science involved with any kind of new innovation that can't be strictly on somebody's, um, concierge desire, but it has, It has its place. And I totally respect the people who are diving deep into the science of developing new medical apparatus, services.

    But we also, have a duty to be sure that the patient is given a chance to be a part of the answer. I have an oncologist that had a great quote it's: you put within the patient with the knowledge that their own creation can improve the medical outcome of others only adds to their own healing process. So it's actually a part of the healing for patients to be consulted, integrated, and involved with solutions.

    Robert Fenton: [00:17:09] That's a really fantastic quote up, get that from you afterwards and repeat it for other people. Thanks for sharing that. So that's something we should start doing. What as an industry, should we stop doing that right away?

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:17:22] Stop looking at high-tech as being the solution to every problem. Again, there's things like I have a friend who invented a bedsheet that allows a patient to just be rolled over in order to change the sheet without having to be lifted up. And that is such a small, but really critical thing, not only for the patient, but for the nursing teams.

    I mean, there, we're seeing, as we go through this pandemic that the nursing teams are stretched so thin and anything that we can do that helps them on their day-to-day interaction with patients is so important so that they can do the work they need to do with the high, intense cases that are coming through the doors.

    So not always thinking that there's an app or an AI or a high-tech solution to problems. Let's look at some low tech solutions for day-to-day issues.

    Robert Fenton: [00:18:23] Very well said. And if there's magic ones you had, and you could wave that and you make one change or improvement, what would that be?

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:18:31] It would create, it would be the wave, a wand over everyone so that they would desire to live, to lead a healthy life in order to be proactive.

    So that the kinds of things that come up, because we're not mindful of our own health wouldn't be as much of an issue. So preventing diabetes, preventing preventing obesity. So I just wish that there would be a desire and everyone to lead a more healthy lifestyle in order to let the medical world create other things that can address major issues.

    Robert Fenton: [00:19:10] Fantastic wish. I echo that times 10. Uh, really appreciate you sharing it. I mean, this, your story, Cinde is incredibly inspirational and correct where it would, people kind of get more information either on you or, you know, cancer affects for one to three people I think the stats there where people will share, I'm sure like recent, a lot of interest in what you're doing at KILI Medical.

    How could he get more information?

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:19:34] Where, uh, we have a website medicaldraincarrier.com. And then I'm on LinkedIn. So CDolphin on LinkedIn. And then we also have, an education sheet that's on our website for anybody who's going to have these Jackson Pratt or post-surgical drains.

    And we encourage people to look at that fact sheet so they can be informed. Many times patients don't even know they're going to have these strings until they're coming out of anesthesia. So we're encouraging the medical community to be proactive and giving them kind of education that a patient will need so they're not surprised when they're coming through the recovery process.

    Robert Fenton: [00:20:20] Thank you for sharing. We'll try and add some of those links to the show notes at the bottom, for anybody to kind of go directly to those sources. You're an inspiration. Thank you for joining. I've loved this conversation and I know that I'm personally excited to follow your journey and progress.

    Thank you very much for joining us today.

    Cinde Dolphin: [00:20:36] Thank you, Robert. I've enjoyed it.

    New call-to-action