Berkeley Springs mother aiding children with hypotonia - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Berkeley Springs mother aiding children with hypotonia

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Photo courtesy of MightyTykes Photo courtesy of MightyTykes
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By CYNTHIA McCLOUD

For The State Journal

Necessity led a West Virginia mother to invent a tool to help special-needs babies build muscle.

Now an innovative financing program is helping her bring her invention to market.

When Isabella Yosuico’s son was born four years ago with Down syndrome, she learned he would have hypotonia — low muscle tone and general weakness.

Yosuico, of Berkeley Springs, decided baby Isaac could grow stronger if he wore tiny weights on his wrists and ankles. But all the weights she found online are designed for adults and older children.

“I had leftover fleece and I went to my basement and took sandbox sand and I sewed these really pitiful weights,” Yosuico said about her earliest prototype. “I started putting them on him when he was a few months old and our physical therapist, Dr. Mary Jane Banak, thought they were great.”

And with that, MightyTykes Infant and Child Weights were born.

Sold in 1/8-, 1/4- and 1/2-pound increments, the weights can be worn by children up to 3 years old during playtime or in structured therapy sessions to build strength. The weights also have other applications. They help discourage stereotypic movements, such as when a child compulsively waves his hands and arms in the air, she said. The weights are designed to help overall weakness, one-sided weakness, toe walking, sensory issues (such as children who enjoy the feeling of weight on their limbs), tremors, low muscle tone and visual field cut.

These symptoms are often associated with conditions such as infant stroke, prematurity, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy and autism, among many others.

Yosuico’s start-up, MightyTykes LLC, is taking its first orders for the weights and looking ahead to other products for special-needs children it might research and develop.

“We have some general ideas,” she said. “Both my husband and I early on felt like this is a lot bigger than just Isaac.

“People are asking if we have other weighted products.”

Yosuico is also considering a line of padded protective helmets and exercise clothing for toddlers branded with MightyTykes’ ant logo.

Before the weights’ official launch at the New York Metro Abilities Expo May 2, Yosuico spent years doing market research — sending the weights out to families enrolled in early intervention programs and to some of the best children’s hospitals in the country. She also looked for ways to fund her start-up.

MightyTykes launched thanks in part to a $200,000 investment from two West Virginia investment groups — The INNOVA Commercialization Group (part of the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation) and the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust.

Yosuico explained how the loan is worth so much more to her than its face value.

Representatives from the groups sit on her board, adding value to her company. She gets to work with a W.Va. Small Business Development Center business coach, Robert Marggraf. The terms of the graduated repayment plan are very favorable.

“It’s a great model for somebody starting out,” Yosuico said. “If I’d gotten a home equity line of credit, I’d be paying right now. When you’re a start-up, that’s painful.

“And they want me to succeed because they’re not just a bank giving me money. They represent the interests of West Virginia in terms of growing jobs and growing our economy as a state.”

Andy Zulauf, executive director of WVJIT, said his organization is “delighted” to be a part of the Mighty Tykes team.

“MightyTykes is an example of what the spirit of entrepreneurship is — identifying a problem, developing a solution to meet the market demand and having the courage to do it,” Zulauf said. “The collaboration between WVJIT, INNOVA, WVSBDC, West Virginia Capital Access Program (WVCAP) and the company allowed each group to contribute vital resources to best position the company for success.”

Funding for this investment is made available through the Appalachian Regional Commission with additional funds provided through the WVCAP, which provides West Virginia small businesses with access to new loan funds they can use to invest, expand and create jobs. The state-run program has access to $13.1 million through the State Small Business Credit Initiative, created under the federal Small Business Jobs Act of 2010. WVCAP is administered by the state’s venture capital program WVJIT.