WINONA LAKE — Marna Pacheo, Winona Lake, believes each life has a purpose, including that of her daughter, Millie.
Pacheo and her husband adopted Millie, now 9, from China when she was about 2 years old. At birth, Millie had two traits working against her — being female and having a cleft lip and palate, both deemed undesirable in her culture. As a result, Millie faced abuse and neglect that left her permanently scarred inside.
“When we brought her home, she was diagnosed with complex developmental trauma disorder,” Pacheo said. “It’s an extreme form of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
To this day, Millie is mostly nonverbal and struggles with sensory integration. Wanting to do all she could, Pacheo, at the suggestion of Millie’s occupational therapist, went online to look at weighted garments, designed to calm children with sensory disorders. What she found, however, was not satisfactory to her.
“I was very appalled at how institutional things were,” she said. “They were like straight jackets. Millie had been at the orphanage two years of her life and I really didn’t want to put something on her that looked like what she had come from.”
The garments also did not stay on when Millie wanted to stand up.
“I thought, wouldn’t it be neat if she had some kind of cape that she could walk, run, go to the store and go to church with, yet have it on to feel safe and help her control her behaviors.”
Pacheo contacted Susan Hickok, Fort Wayne, whom she had met through the process of adopting Millie. She wanted to know if Hickok knew of any seamstresses from the Fort Wayne area who could help design the weighted capes. As it turned out, Hickok graduated with a degree in pattern making and design.
The two set to work designing and marketing weighted capes. They dubbed their business, “CapeAble,” a play on words taking into account the product and its meaning.
“It started with a cape, but we wanted a name that also said, you aren’t kind of capable, you aren’t sort of capable, everyone is capable,” Pacheo said.
After two years, they had a line not only of capes, but of weighted blankets, garments and toys. As people began using them, they discovered they helped with a list of symptoms — anxiety, aches and pains ADHD, Down syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, even insomnia.
From there, things happened quickly: Fort Wayne-area manufacturer Exellon Technologies Inc. took CapeAble on as a subsidiary. A three- to six-month study on Pacheo’s and Hickok’s design is taking place now and the American Medical Journal plans to publish the findings. Baptist Memorial Hospital in Florida is also looking at the capes and other items.
“What started out as a project for a special-needs little girl ended up being very evidence-based in the healthcare field,” Pacheo said.
Despite the lasting effects of her early abuse and neglect, Millie is still a typical girl in many ways.
“She’s really quite a smart girl and loves to be happy and have fun and have balance,” Pacheo said. “She loves to spell, she loves to read and she loves to laugh. She’s pretty amazing that way. Also, Millie loves to bounce, like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.”
CapeAble products are not yet available online, but those interested can stop by their retail store in Fort Wayne or “like” CapeAble Sensory Products on Facebook or visit the CapeAble website to receive updates.