Circling Back: Deborah Olivo is a Survivor

The founder and owner of Vida Aire finds the inner strength to keep her business alive through the challenge of severe illness.

Candice Helfand-Rogers By Candice Helfand-Rogers

5 Years of StoriesWhen we first published our video profile of Deborah Olivo, founder of Vida Aire, which sells sanitizing products made from essential oils, we called her “simply unstoppable.”

Before starting up, she had lost her job in the recession, which left her struggling to pay rent. Ultimately, it was entrepreneurship and hard work that saw her through. “It wasn’t until I had to literally walk through the fire, where I discovered that I’ve got some metal behind me. And no matter how hot it gets, it will only make me stronger.”

Our description turned out to be not only relevant at the time, but prescient as well. That tenacity has helped her keep her company afloat, despite a lengthy battle with illness.

Our first conversation with Olivo took place in 2011. Her business grew apace until 2013, when she began to feel sick. Her symptoms turned out to be the early effects of Lyme disease. She was sick for nearly two years, and tried doctor-prescribed treatments, such as strong doses of steroids to battle the disease. However, the side effects from the medication caused cataracts to develop in both of her eyes, stripping 70 percent of her vision from her left eye.

Her only option was eye cataract surgery, but without health insurance, she was facing down a $7,000 bill — per eye. Luckily, one of her nurses recommended Olivo as a candidate for aid from the Commission for the Blind. With their financial help, she underwent the procedure in 2015. It was successful, and she regained her vision fully.

Throughout, she never stopped bottling and mailing orders, though her business did slow during her illness. “When you have a passion for what you do, your motivation keeps you going,” she says.

Now, a relaunch is in the works, as well as new products that diminish odors in sports bags and repel insects. As part of her new start, she has taken on a mentor and is seeking input from a former ad executive on a label redesign. To supplement her income, she has secured part-time bookkeeping and accounting work.

Today, she’s feeling much better. Through the tougher times, she maintained a positive outlook. Never one to back down when things got hard, Olivo wasn’t exaggerating when she declared recently: “I will never give up.”

Posted: December 8, 2016

Candice Helfand-RogersCircling Back: Deborah Olivo is a Survivor