Freedom Wand: Stay-At-Home Beats the Odds

Deborah Tacoma is the inventor of the Freedom Wand, a unique device designed to aid the elderly, the disabled, and obesity patients with their personal hygiene. Despite not having any initial experience in business or manufacturing, Deborah bootstrapped her way to create a product that’s improving lives around the world.

In this episode, we cover:

  • How a back breaking injury inspired a new product
  • How the lack of experience turned into an advantage
  • How God inspired her to change lives around the world

Links:

Freedom Wand Website: https://freedomwand.com

Get these episodes sent directly to your inbox at https://totalmichigan.com/join/

Transcript
Deborah Tacomah:

And I thought, well, Lord, if I can make enough money and do enough sales to pay my payment, which was 600 and some dollars and Earn a couple hundred dollars a month that I can do this, that, that would be great. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would have companies ordering a hundred at a time and then it would go international.

Cliff DuVernois:

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Total Michigan, where we interview ordinary people doing some pretty extraordinary things. I am your host, Cliff DuVernois. They often say that necessity is the mother of invention, and nothing could be truer for today's guest, who found herself in a very unique situation, invented a small gizmo just to help herself out, and has now turned around and literally has impacted thousands of lives throughout Michigan as well as throughout the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the show, Deborah Tacoma. Deborah, how are you?

Deborah Tacomah:

I'm fine, Cliff. How are you? Thank you for having me.

Cliff DuVernois:

I'm doing awesome. Thank you for asking. so before we jump in to the show here, what I would like to do is just take a moment and talk about This little gizmo that you created, right? The, the freedom wand. So talk to

Deborah Tacomah:

us about that. I found myself needing help in the bathroom after I, was in a car accident and I broke my back and I was in the hospital for six days. And I left there with a turtle shell, one of those plastic corsets, like, old fashioned corset. It was tight, and it had rods, and it wouldn't allow me to bend or twist. I was also over 385 pounds at the time, and it was a hot summer. So you combine... A broken back, inability to bend and twist for four months, and being really warm and obese, you have a problem taking care of your personal hygiene in the bathroom. So whether it's reaching areas to shower, or wiping yourself after toileting, or putting ointment on, or shaving your legs, there was nothing on the market that would hold multiple items and help me without buying like five or six different items. And some of those weren't long enough for an obese patient, but they weren't friendly enough to be able to go away. So I wanted to be able to have an independent, active lifestyle, even though I couldn't reach to weight myself by being able to take something with me. So I started looking for something and couldn't find anything that was long enough for obese, but short enough to be. Portable. And so God inspired me to design it and I drew it out on a napkin pad and 15, 16 years later on a napkin, 16 years later, here we are now.

Cliff DuVernois:

Why don't you tell us where you're from?

Deborah Tacomah:

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Holland, Michigan, and I've never moved more than seven miles away from where I grew up. So I'm a deep embedded homebound Holland girl. Now, did you

Cliff DuVernois:

go to, did you go to college?

Deborah Tacomah:

Anything like that? No, I went to high school. I met my, husband when I was 14 and a half years old on a mission trip. And, we fell in love and I got married right after high school and had all three of my babies by the time I was 26. And this all happened when I was in 2006. So, let's see, I was 46.

Cliff DuVernois:

during this time were you a stay at home mom? Did you have a job? Were you employed anywhere?

Deborah Tacomah:

No, I was a stay at home mom. We did a lot of flipping houses and my... husband had decided to start a plumbing business in 1994, so then I self taught myself QuickBooks and took care of his office work.

Cliff DuVernois:

So talk to us about the incident where you wind up breaking your back.

Deborah Tacomah:

Well, that was a freaky story. So it was a Friday morning and we always had cousin's coffee with my aunts and my cousins. And this time it was my mom's turn and she doesn't live far from me, but I turned a corner to go to her house. And for whatever reason, I have no idea why I was looking down. And I wasn't going very fast, and when I looked up, I was headed to my neighbor's mailbox, my parent's neighbor's mailbox. And I overcorrected to miss the mailbox, but then I, in my little PT Cruiser, I shot across the road and ended up on the, culvert of the ditch and bounced on the culvert and ended up in the field. And I could feel that my car broke underneath me, I could hear the frame snap, but I also knew I broke my back, immediately. Anyway, as soon as... that happened. So I told the ambulance drivers, be very, very careful. Cause I know I broke my back. Wowzers.

Cliff DuVernois:

So as you're going through this, talk to us a little bit about, like what were some of the things that you were thinking about as you're going through this? Like what was some of the things going through your mind during this time? Oh,

Deborah Tacomah:

well, a lot. So, you know, you don't know what the future is going to bring. Right. It's like, Oh my goodness. Especially being an obese patient. Because you have a whole lot of, different attributes to think about when you're quite large. And I, we had a stressful life and I turned to food. some people turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, addictions, mindless food. So I have been battling that ever since. But when you don't know how you're going to heal, it's just scary. It's just a scary time. but it all worked out great and I didn't heal well. So that same year they wanted to do surgery, but not at my weight. So then I had to have gastric bypass surgery. And that's a whole nother monkey. And so that was 150 off, but I still haven't had back surgery because I had another doctor say, no, do not do surgery. It will not help. So I, I live very carefully and not, I do not let it inhibit, me, but you know, raking, shoveling, certain things you just don't do. so I protected myself and kept myself as healthy as I can.

Cliff DuVernois:

What I would like to do is I would like to talk about, because you mentioned before God inspired you to create the Freedom Wand. How did the idea start to come about to actually make this?

Deborah Tacomah:

Well, I had a great friend. I still have. She's one of my best friends. She was a nurse and so she came home to help me and I'm like, okay, Joy, we got to figure this out. How am I going to toilet myself? How am I going to wipe myself? after every bowel movement and of course you're on pain drugs and many different medications and those don't go well with stomach issues. She said, well, let me go to the store and figure it out. So she went to a dollar store and she found at that time they had these, but I don't think they do anymore. But it was a toilet bowl cleaner that had the spongy fingers on it. And she bought one of them and wondered if that would do it. Well, it wasn't long enough. So then I had in my house a long metal toilet. I still actually have one that I recreated just because it's part of history, but it was a long. Tongue that was metal and I duct taped the two together to get it long enough and then I had a little Pail next to my bathroom with female Cleaning solution in it and I would use that to clean myself And then afterwards, of course, you'd have to wash that out And so it was it worked for at home, but it definitely wasn't portable and it definitely was not sanitary So it was not something that you could take along I still had the struggle of not being able to shave my legs, or wash my feet, or my back, or my bottom in the shower, or put any lotion on, or medicated cream, and of course, when you've got that much drugs in your body, you get and loose bowels create raw bottoms, but I really wanted to be able to shave my legs, apply my medicated cream or lotions, wash myself in the shower and go to the bathroom. And I wanted it to be long enough for me as an obese patient, but short enough to be portable. And I could not find anything. so I created, and a friend of mine at church was an inventor, and he had a huge company. So I went to him, and I, remember, I'm just a mom who broke her back, is what I used to say. I never went to marketing school, I never went to engineering school, I, nothing, you know, I just was. I just started having babies right away. So I went to him and he said, this is a great idea. Did you do your market research? And I literally asked him, what is market research? So he said, Well, I've tried to find something that will, that is the same. And I'm like, Well, that's why I made it, because I couldn't find anything. But then I hired a college student who actually knows how to research to, uh, Really dive deep and see what they could find. And they couldn't find anything that was the same. So he then sent me with my idea to an injection molding company in town. So my products made by S tech in Holland, Michigan, and, they loved it and they loved me and I love them. So we still are in a great partnership. And then he sent me to his patent attorney. And from there, we just rolled with it. But

Cliff DuVernois:

also too, what I thought was interesting was when you started talking about all these other. Like attachments that you could add to it, like you made a comment before about not shaving your legs and applying medication and stuff. And I would imagine that all of these different things that you want to do require some kind of a different head or attachment or something to put on there, right?

Deborah Tacomah:

You would think so, but no. I wanted it, I wanted one product to be multi task, available. the other toilet aids that are out there, you have to tuck the toilet into, the toilet paper into something. And it doesn't hold anything but toilet paper. But I created mine, so then it would hold multiple items. So that one tool can disassemble and come with a bag, and you can, Take it with you wherever you go to do all of these items, all of these things. So, um, I can demonstrate how it works and how we made it. But, the question that I said to myself and I had asked my friend, Joy, and I said, people live with this their entire lives. There are some people who are not just three to four months wanting to have their independence, but they need to, to live with this forever for whatever reason. Right. And what do they do? That's inhibiting. If you can't even toilet yourself since you've, what you've learned when you were two and three years old, you really feel like you're at the end of your rope. Well, just shoot me, you know. I mean, personal hygiene is interesting because you are way more free to shower in front of someone. And change clothes in front of someone, then you're going to be to go to the bathroom and have a bowel movement, right? Everybody understands and they accept that part of life. But when you, you go to the bathroom, every bathroom stall, at least in the USA, has a door. Because you want to be private when it comes to toileting. You don't want to have to have people wipe your... You just don't. I wanted that to make sure that I could offer something and help people improve their lives, long term as well as if they only need it for short term.

Cliff DuVernois:

I guess the first question is, is, is that what made you think that this would be some kind of a product for you to put out onto the marketplace?

Deborah Tacomah:

That is a really good question. Looking back, ignorance is bliss, right? Because. I just wanted to help somebody and I, everybody that I ran into so far thought it was an ingenious idea. But, um, how did I think that I could build something, grow something, and then make it go into the marketplace when I had no experience or knowledge? I'm not really sure. That's why it was all God inspired. it's His thing. in the beginning, I said, well, this is your thing. So, I am an obedient servant. I will walk through whatever door you open. be, be gracious. So there are some days I've sat here and said, I have no idea what you're thinking. I'm talking to Jesus, right? It's like, Oh, what are we doing? so yeah, 15, 16 years later, here we are.

Cliff DuVernois:

Why did you, uh, approach your inventory friend?

Deborah Tacomah:

I didn't have a clue as to where to go. So all I knew is that I had this idea and I didn't know, I'm not in those kind of circles. So it's like, well, who might be able to give me some advice on this? And then Ken was, in my church and I thought, well, he's a great start because he's a, he's an inventor. He created a huge business. So let's see what he thinks and where he would send me. And that really did open up the door to continue moving forward is. His, his advice and, his recommendations of going forward. So I just never came across to anybody that said, no, don't do this. It's a really stupid idea. Everybody thought it was a great idea. Now, didn't I know it was going to take so much money? Injection molding is not cheap.

Cliff DuVernois:

Definitely. And I do want to talk about that, when we come back from the break. So for our audience, we're going to take a quick moment and thank our sponsors. And when we do come back, uh, we're going to. Explore some more about the little backstory here and about the wand and, uh, where you can get one if you're looking for one, we'll see you after the break. Are you enjoying these amazing stories? Michigan is full of people that are doing some pretty extraordinary things. If you want these amazing stories sent directly to your inbox, head over to total michigan.com. Enter your email address and get them today. What are you going to get? I'm glad you asked. First, you're gonna join our awesome Michigan community Second, you will get an email that includes the top five interviews from the show sent directly to your inbox. Third, you're gonna get exclusive behind the scenes information about the show. There's a lot of things that are happening to grow this movement beyond the confines of just a radio show and a podcast. You'll get advanced notice of upcoming guests and early access to their interviews. Now to get all these goodies, just head over to total michigan.com/join. Enter your email address and join our awesome community today. Hello everyone and welcome back to Total Michigan, where we interview ordinary Michiganders doing some pretty extraordinary things. I'm your host, Cliff Duvenois. Today, we are talking with Deborah Tacoma, the creator, the inventor of the Freedom Wand. And Deborah, before the break, uh, we were just talking about how... You don't really have any experience in business or manufacturing and stuff. And so you're just starting to use the sphere of people around you, to start moving this thing forward. And you shared that you were talking with your inventor friend who has now introduced you to somebody who does manufacturing. And you mentioned, uh, injection molding. Talk to us about going and meet with... meeting with them for the first time and what was their reaction to the product?

Deborah Tacomah:

well, I had created, a little drawing on a napkin and then I moved to paper. and, when I explained to them what I was doing and why, they loved the idea of getting involved with something that was, a product other than manufacturing for cars and automobiles, which is their main gig, right? Their main person is for automobile manufacturing. So they loved branching off into something local and, that would help people. So they were all excited about it and they just really had a lot of wisdom behind them as far as what kind of engineering, what kind of tools, what kind of design, what kind of CAD work. And then I, I hired a college student that was going to Kendall, for industrial design, who actually worked for my cousin as a builder at the moment, at the time. So he used it as his project and he designed the first initial design as his college project. So it was less, It's expensive for me to get done and he got experience out of it. So it was great. And then from there, we went to, the injection molding company, the tool designer that. Aztec used, which was Mitch from Dun Rank Machine Out Indoor. I absolutely adore Mitch and his family. they have just been amazing support and yeah, of course you couldn't get metal tools and your tool work done overseas, but, that was a little too scary for me because I just, I'm not gonna travel overseas and talk with people in Chinese. Right. So I'd much rather use our Michigan, Michigan people. So everything about the freedom wand has been done in Michigan. When you went

Cliff DuVernois:

there, you talked to them. And the injection molding, and you made the comment before about how that's not cheap. So I, my question to you is, is that, initially to get the money to get this funding off the ground, how did you find that?

Deborah Tacomah:

Uh, it was bootstrapped. There was a small loan from the bank that was happening. And, it was, you dig deep, you dig deep and you get very creative, but I did not use investors for a very long time. Love

Cliff DuVernois:

that. Well, so they built out the molds, they got the cast done and all this other stuff. And. The Freedom One starts to essentially roll off the assembly line. So talk to us about what it was like when you actually saw the product, you could actually hold it in your hand and start to play with it, start to use it. Talk to us about what that felt like.

Deborah Tacomah:

Oh, that was, that was just like kind of an unbelievable, Surreal experience, quite frankly. And then to watch them, in the factory itself, roll off and what these tools do and how they make it. It's like, that's my product. You know, it's just kind of, yeah, it's, it's definitely a surreal experience, that's for

Cliff DuVernois:

sure. Talk to us about. being able to add like extensions to this or other products to us. Talk to us about that.

Deborah Tacomah:

So let me, as I'm talking to you about that, I'll just, I'll describe it and show it to you. So because I wanted it multi task and multi length, I needed to make sure that it could come apart and that we could have extensions. So my original Freedom Wand was built for the obese. And it was built longer than the rest of them on the market. So this first one was called the MasterCAD. It was the original actually, and it came with three pieces. The handle attaches to an extension. And it has these button releases, and then the extension attaches to the head. you can take the attachments out and make it shorter, make the Freedom 1 shorter, by just putting two pieces together. Now, we have that called as the Compact Kit. And then, we had a lot of patients calling in, and it wasn't quite long enough, at the 20 inches, so we made a kit that was called the Ultimate Kit, which includes... So it gets up to 25 inches and my largest patient that I know of was over 700 pounds. But then we also included a strap. the strap is made out of neoprene and it can get attached to one head, one side, and then it's got three slices in the other so that you can make it small, medium, or large. So those that are, with issues and they can't bend over, because of back issues, but if they also don't have hand strength, so the strap actually was created because I went to market it to a little person convention, and little people have short little fingers. And they have shorter arms that they can't reach correctly. But your muscle strength, which I never knew, is in your fingers. It's in the length of your fingers. So, because their fingers are smaller, their muscles can be weaker. And then they can't wrap their hand around there. So they asked me to develop the strap. So that they could have, so that they could use it and not drop it with their... And then, of course, the little children, in order for them to be independent at school, they need to be able to do their own toileting. So our little people of the world, who are small, want to be mainstreamed in school, and they can do that with the freedom on. So it's very popular amongst the little people, organizations. And I absolutely adore my little people. They're so fun. They know how to party. Those people, those little people know how to party. They're fun to hang out with. But I, uh... I wanted it multi task. Well, in order to make it multi task, you invent it so that it would hold multiple items. for those that can see this, the grippers of the head pop out, and when they come back together, there's about a quarter inch plus diameter in between all those fingers. if you put the tip of your pinky finger in the end and then pull it all the way in, that's what the size needs to be when you hold things. So, you need to create a pom pom with your toilet tissue. But this way, it will hold a disposable shaver, it holds an ointment pad to apply medicated cream like, you know, a little makeup sponge. it will hold a loofah when you tie knots in it. So I'm a loofah girl, so when you tie knots in those loofah ropes, really close to the nylon netting, that knot can go deep into the grippers and pull it in, and it holds it nice and tight so you can wash yourself in the shower. Solved shaving, showering, ointment, and toileting problem. So now we've helped people be able to, feed themselves by holding spoons, knives, and forks that are either built up or cut down, based on their handle. We've, I'm helping a little gal right now who doesn't have any hands or, and has short arms to wipe herself, but she wanted to hold her own brush. So we created a brush by using a belt sander. So whatever you can do, your occupational therapists and physical therapists are very creative at figuring it out. But anything that's about the diameter of your pinky is what it will hold. So it's an all purpose kind of tool. Wonderful. How

Cliff DuVernois:

did you go out and start marketing the product?

Deborah Tacomah:

Well, I knew that my occupational therapists were going to be my best bet because they are the professional that recommends and helps people live. And I knew that because I needed my occupational therapist after I broke my back. So she came to my home, helped me figure out how to do things. They didn't have a good solution when I asked in the, in the, the hospital, what do I do for toileting? And she came back with this short little tiny hot dog tongue. And I knew that wasn't going to work. but Matt, your occupational therapists are your best, my best bet. So I went out to the Michigan occupational therapy conference that year in California with my two daughters. And we were supposed to have product by then, but there was a delay. So we had to go without the product. And so we had a table and we were demoing and people loved it. there was a great big company called Salmon's Preston. I think it was Salmon's Preston back then, and they were, the founder of Salmon's Preston was a Michigan based guy who was living in Kalamazoo. So I got my nerve up and I took my product over there and I approached Fred. Every occupational therapist that's going to hear this knows who Fred is. He is just this wonderful little man. I love Fred. And so I approached Fred and told him and he was so excited. He was an inventor as well. That's how he created and developed Salmon Preston, which is now Patterson Medical. I showed him and he was so excited and he and his whole entourage came walking down the aisle to my booth. So that I could show his entire team about the Freedom One. And they were the first people that started selling the Freedom One through their channels. And it was just super exciting. So I've got

Cliff DuVernois:

some friends of mine that are going to ask this question. Did you patent this

Deborah Tacomah:

whole thing? I did. I patented it and trademarked it. And yep, you don't do a product like this and spend the kind of money it takes to get tools and injection molding done without patenting it.

Cliff DuVernois:

Why don't you share with us like maybe a story or two. that somebody has, you know, either emailed you or bumped in you on the street, whatever that might be, and just said, wow, this is incredible. Talk to us about a couple of those stories.

Deborah Tacomah:

Um, well, I mentioned my little people of the world. They definitely love it. and then I've had, one of my patients was over 700 pounds, and I have numerous patients that have said, I finally get to leave my house. I didn't go anywhere, but maybe to church only if my husband came along, that if I had to go to the bathroom, he could have helped me. Otherwise, I didn't go anywhere. and so now when you can toilet yourself, you are free to leave your home. You're free to live an active, independent life, and I get a lot of people that talk to me about that.

Cliff DuVernois:

You made this comment before about how you started this business 14 years

Deborah Tacomah:

ago? 2007 is when I began. I started the idea in the fall of 2006. I started. manufacturing and created the company the summer of 07. And we started shipping the product May of 08.

Cliff DuVernois:

Did you ever see yourself being at this spot when you first started out?

Deborah Tacomah:

No, no. I remember very distinctly being in my first little office, which was in my basement. And I thought, well, Lord, if I can make enough money and do enough sales to pay my payment, which was 600 and some dollars and Earn a couple hundred dollars a month that I can do this, that, that would be great. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would have companies ordering a hundred at a time and then it would go international. So I have distribution right now in Australia, Canada, Bolivia. the U. K. right now, we're trying to, we're looking and discussing something with the U. K. And of course, it's on Amazon, and so it ships everywhere. Man, this is wonderful.

Cliff DuVernois:

I'm loving every part of this story. Deborah, if somebody's listening to this... And they want to check out the Freedom Wand, maybe they want to get one because Christmas is coming. what would be the best way for them to do that?

Deborah Tacomah:

Yeah, this is a gift that is the best thing to give because you're giving the gift of freedom. And that's what, and it's a subject people don't like to talk about, but every... Every child at any age needs to talk to their parents about their toilet being in hygiene because it is very important that they stay independent. But FreedomWand. com, I'm right here in Michigan, so CareLink, uh, carries them. I don't know what airway action and carries them in their storage just online, but you can go to Amazon and get them, of course, but FreedomWand. com is my website.

Cliff DuVernois:

Deborah, thank you so much for taking time to chat with us today. I really do appreciate it. Your story is... is awesome. I'm absolutely loving it. So thank you for taking time today.

Deborah Tacomah:

Well, thank you so much for having me, Cliff. It's been a, it's been a pleasure.

Cliff DuVernois:

And for our audience, you can always roll on over to TotalMichigan. com, click on Deborah's interview and get the links that she mentioned above. We'll see you next week when we talk to another Michigander doing some pretty extraordinary things. We'll see you then.