Woman entrepreneur survives a life-threatening disease to create a product that can potentially help burn victims.
At age 16 Katie Niemeyer nearly died from a rare allergic reaction to medication that caused her skin and mucous membranes to burn. She was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) and admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis with second- and third-degree burns. While some lasting side effects from the disease still torment her 25 years later, the experience inspired her to create a new product that can potentially help other burn victims.
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But none of that would have happened if Niemeyer didn’t meet a fellow burn victim who gave her courage and strength to fight for her life.
Watch Niemeyer tell her moving story on The Steve Harvey Show.
Niemeyer recovered with minimal visible scars and side effects.
“I have impaired tear production and drainage, aberrant lashes which I have had surgery for, dry eye syndrome, and sensitivity to light,” she says. But, she adds, this is nothing compared to the most SJS survivors who are left blind or need corneal transplants.
Still, her sensitive eyes kept her away from pursuing one of her dreams – to run a marathon. Living and running in the Texas heat, hats and headbands weren’t enough to prevent the sweat from dripping in her eyes, causing excruciating pain and burning sensation. Determined to compete, Niemeyer needed a solution.
In 2012 she created the Handana – a high performance sweatband that athletes can wrap around their hands, allowing them to use both sides to wipe away sweat from their eyes, nose, neck and forehead. It is made of soft, durable wicking fabric that is lightweight and designed for comfort.
Six months later, Niemeyer introduced Handana to the market. It’s now carried in a dozen stores nationwide, along with online retailers in the U.S., Australia, U.K. and Norway.
Sales have tripled in the past year and Niemeyer is looking into expanding Handana, but that’s just part of her story. She was recently contacted by the director of the burn unit at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the same facility where she was treated at Washington University Medical Center. “They are interested in possibly testing Handana on burn victims because of the softness of the fabric,” says Niemeyer.
And thanks to the Steve Harvey Show, she finally got a chance to thank her personal hero, Kerry. Watch their tearful reunion.