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Working With and Being Married to a True Renaissance Woman

A guest blog post by GCB Medical President Ryan Bowen
January 30, 2021

 

I will never forget the day I met Kate. Like most traditional love stories, ours began with a forced work encounter at a local Panera Bread in Framingham, MA. I was 28 years old and working in pharmaceutical sales at the time. My manager had asked me to meet up with a young sales rep from another company who was co-promoting the same product. I remember feeling generally annoyed that I had to go make small talk with some random person about how I was promoting Protonix for acid reflux.

But when I walked in and saw that Kate was the random sales rep...I went from feeling generally annoyed to completely enamored. Thankfully I played it cool and nailed it with a great opening line.

Hello. So, have you ever sold Pharmaceuticals before?” 

She’ll never admit it, but I think deep down she was all in from that moment on.

Our 2009 wedding in Lake George, NY

It’s actually pretty wild to think of all that’s happened since that first awkward meeting in 2007. Within a couple of years, I convinced Kate to marry me and move to Connecticut for my job. Over the next ten years, she would convince me to have four kids and quit my corporate job to come work for her. And while I can’t pretend our lives look anything close to what we originally envisioned, I can say for certain that showing up to Panera Bread that morning was the best thing that ever happened to me.

When Kate asked me to guest write a blog post and share some of my background and insights on the things I’m working on at our company, GCB Medical Supply, I was happy to do it. But as I sat down and thought about what would be compelling for people to read about my story, I realized I mostly just wanted to talk about Kate. So instead this post is going to be about her and what it’s been like to have a front row seat to all that she’s done over the last 14 years I’ve known her. I’m hoping she won’t be upset by my editorial judgement but I suppose if you see another blog post from me next week that is strictly focused on my work, you’ll know how this one landed.

Most of you reading this are probably familiar with Georgia’s story. Our youngest daughter was born in cardiac arrest in 2018 and survived a heart transplant when she was four months old. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember what our lives were like before she arrived. We had the typical joys and stress that come with having three kids and two demanding careers. But when Georgia was born, our world was knocked off its axis.

Georgia at six weeks old, Boston Children’s Hospital

There is nothing that can prepare you for having a critically ill child. The first six months of Georgia’s life felt like an excruciating roller coaster ride that we could not get off. Seemingly every day Georgia went through a heartbreaking setback followed by a miraculous breakthrough. All the devastating news we received from the doctors was always followed by a sign of hope from her that gave us what we needed to push forward. 

I have always known Kate to be strong-willed. As her husband of 12 years I can tell you it’s one of her signature traits. But I don’t think there’s a word to describe the superhuman strength I witnessed from Kate after Georgia was born. It was as if she took every ounce of her overwhelming pain and transformed it into this laser-focused energy and sheer determination to keep Georgia alive. Kate made it her mission to become an expert on Georgia’s heart condition which allowed her to be our daughter’s biggest advocate while we were in the ICU. She was always connecting the dots and would notice immediately when even the smallest thing seemed off.

The only other person I’ve met who can match Kate’s level of perseverance is our daughter Georgia.

To be sure, we’ve had countless ups and downs in the two years since Georgia came home from the hospital. Through it all, I’ve watched Kate’s determined focus on Georgia’s well-being grow and expand to helping other transplant families who are fighting the same battles. She’s taken the heaviness that comes with raising a medically complex child and figured out a way to inspire hope for parents who see what Georgia has overcome. I can say from personal experience that when you’re in the midst of tragedy, hope is the biggest gift you can receive.

I saw the light first go on when she had the idea to design the Georgie, a patent pending pediatric gown she developed with Georgia’s medical team at Boston Children’s Hospital. Throughout that process I think Kate realized how immensely underserved the pediatric patient population is. Since then she’s been working tirelessly with various hospitals, researchers, doctors and medical device companies to change that. Her commitment to bringing innovative products to the pediatric market is one piece of the puzzle in our family’s overarching goal of advancing transplant medicine.

Nine months ago, Kate asked me to quit my corporate job and come work with her to help launch GCB Medical Supply. At this point you can probably guess that she wasn’t going to take no for an answer, but it truly was one of the easiest decisions I’ve made both personally and professionally. I am getting to build a business with my wife that is allowing us to give back in a way we never dreamed possible. I’ve made it my priority to take as much of the minutiae of both work and family life off of Kate’s plate in order to allow her to maximize her time doing what she does best - driving the GCB team toward the vision she has for the company and interacting directly with the customers who love doing business with her. 

There’s so much more I could say about Kate, but because I was given a strict word count, I’ll close by mentioning that today is her birthday. In retrospect, I probably should have led with that but since this is my first professional blog post I’m hoping she’ll forgive me. 

Happy birthday, Katie Q. I hope you pause for a brief moment today and appreciate all that you’ve created this past year. Thank you for pouring your endless love and energy into our family, thank you for being the boss I never knew I wanted, and most of all... thank you for taking all that great professional advice I gave you at Panera 14 years ago. I think it’s really paid off. 

I love you.

-Ryan

Ryan Bowen is the President of GCB Medical Supply. Previously, he spent 20 years in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries with Pfizer and Stryker Orthopedics. He grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and earned his B.S. in Biology at Boston College. 

At work, Ryan’s primary focus with GCB Medical is business development and strategy. At home, Ryan’s primary focus is keeping their busy household well-fed, organized and on time, while fully supporting all of his wife’s crazy ideas.

 

A New Chapter for The Bowens in 2020

It is truly amazing to step back and think about how much all our lives have changed since March. Like many of you, we’ve had a lot of beautiful family moments mixed with plenty of not-so-beautiful ones during this global pandemic. We’ve been stretched and pulled to capacity, trying to adjust and make decisions that will keep our kids – including our youngest who is a two-year-old heart transplant survivor - both safe and sane. It is a seemingly impossible line to walk and the goalposts keep moving. But to me the silver lining of 2020 is that it’s forcing all of us to step back and figure out what’s important. 

For our family, that included two life-changing decisions. 

1. We moved to a farm in Vermont for flu season so our three oldest kids could attend a small, Catholic school in-person.

Jack, Kendal and Scarlett loving Catholic school life in Vermont!

Jack, Kendal and Scarlett loving Catholic school life in Vermont!

2. My husband Ryan and I quit our day jobs to start a medical supply company. That company - GCB Medical Supply - is now supporting our highest mission as a family which is to improve the quality and longevity of heart transplant recipients and patients facing end-stage heart failure. 

Back in April, I was asked a simple question at the end of a phone call with Dave Walsh, who is head of the supply chain at Boston Children’s Hospital. We had just gone over some final details on the first shipment of The Georgie.

The Georgie is a patent pending pediatric gown we developed with Georgia’s medical team at Boston Children’s Hospital

The Georgie is a patent pending pediatric gown we developed with Georgia’s medical team at Boston Children’s Hospital

I remember feeling really excited that everything was finally coming together and then right before we hung up Dave said, “Oh by the way, you don’t happen to have access to any procedural loop masks do you? I could use about a million.”

…. 

After a pause, for some reason I said yes...let me get back to you. I then hung up the phone and my excitement about The Georgie quickly evaporated into full panic about how I was going to come up with one million procedural loop masks out of thin air. In looking back, I think the only thing I realized in that moment was how dire the PPE shortage must have been. And if the hospital that saved my daughter’s life was asking me for help, then I was going to do everything in my power to get them what they needed.

So I stayed up all night for about two straight weeks trying to get the dots to connect. Eventually a swimwear factory in Asia that I had a relationship with through Petit Peony said they could help us. A few weeks after that conversation with Dave Walsh, we managed to deliver one million procedural loop masks to Boston Children’s Hospital. It felt like a major win, but at that point my eyes had been fully opened to how catastrophically broken our country’s PPE supply chain was. 

After that initial order, Dave asked if I could help him find additional products. Things started to fall in place, and here we are seven months later. I’m so proud of the INCREDIBLE team we’ve built at GCB Medical that is now allowing us to source more than a dozen critical PPE products to 150 health systems and hospitals throughout the U.S.

To be perfectly honest, at times this is all still kind of hard for me to process. As a little girl I certainly never dreamed of owning a PPE supply company during a global pandemic. But in the end, this all comes back to Georgia. 

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For the last two and a half years, I’ve witnessed her unwavering perseverance to beat every odd. Georgia has paved the way for change and innovation since the day she was born and she’s given our family strength to know that absolutely anything we put our minds to is achievable. In addition to igniting groundbreaking heart transplant research and inspiring innovation in pediatric products, her fight is now helping spark a revolution in the medical supply industry.  

As I mentioned earlier, our guiding mission as a family is to improve lives and outcomes for heart transplant recipients like Georgia. Our motivation to grow GCB Medical Supply is fueled by our desire to fund critical pediatric heart research AND help protect front line workers with clinically preferred PPE from a reliable supply chain. This month, GCB Medical Supply donated one million dollars to Boston Children’s Hospital to launch the Georgia Claire Bowen Foundation. Going forward, 10 percent of all GCB Medical Supply’s profits will fund the pediatric heart research that we know is going to change lives.

In the end, the 14 years I spent working in the medical device industry coupled with the experience I gained launching a children's clothing company gave me the tools and relationships necessary to help source procedural loops masks in a moment of crisis. But it was our family’s passion for the incredible people at Boston Children’s hospital combined with the example of grit set by our little peach that is going to allow us to make real, lasting change.  

Finally, I just want to say an extra special thank you to WCVB’s Erika Tarantal. I sat down with her last week to talk publicly for the first time about GCB Medical Supply and the GCB IMPACT Initiative. If you missed the story, you can check it out here!

The outpour of love and support from our family, friends and the entire Petit Peony community has always given me so much strength. It feels wonderful to finally be sharing our latest Bowen endeavor, as you are all a critical part of our journey!

 Xo,

Kate

Georgia Claire Bowen Came Here to Change the World

 A friend recently told me I have a higher threshold for chaos than anyone she’s ever met. I’m not sure she meant it as a compliment, but she makes a fair point!

I’m currently running two companies while trying to raise four kids, and because things were starting to feel a little too quiet around our house last month we decided to adopt 12 chickens.

Jack, Scarlett and Kendal welcoming home their new chicks. :) Names are Woody, Fern, JuJu, Pecky, Bob, Jack’s sister, September, August, Meadow, Summer, Autumn and Winter Bowen!

So yes, I am ALL IN on the chaos - and because of that, I’m always grateful for the rare moments that force me to step back and reflect on where we are and just how far we’ve come in the last two and a half years. Today is certainly one of those days, and here’s why.

May 19th, 2018 was my rock bottom. 

I woke up that morning in the postpartum unit at Mass General Hospital in Boston. Instead of soaking in those newborn smells and snuggles with my fourth baby, I was coming out of anesthesia from an emergency C-section and still trying to process what the doctors were telling me. That after a perfectly normal pregnancy, our little girl was born with a heart defect and had immediately gone into cardiac arrest upon delivery. She was in the NICU and while they were doing everything they could to save her, it became crystal clear where they thought things were headed. My husband Ryan and I were suddenly being moved to a different recovery room in the hospital because they didn’t think it was a good idea for us to stay in the postpartum unit. I don’t remember exactly how they said it, but the point was loud and clear: your child is dying and we don’t want you to be around other moms and newborns right now.

 Georgia in the NICU at Mass General Hospital on May 19, 2018

But little did we know...little did anyone know that Georgia would ignite a medical revolution. I’ve said it many times before: Georgia Claire Bowen came here to change the world. Her left ventricle may have been damaged beyond repair at birth, but the strength of her spirit has allowed her to overcome every seemingly impossible medical setback she’s encountered. Her will to persevere was no match for the stroke she suffered on life support or the heart transplant she received at four months old. She’s not just an inspirational story or a medical miracle (though she is certainly both of those things). Georgia is actually changing how some of the best cardiology doctors in the world treat congenital heart disease.

From day one, we’ve followed Georgia’s lead. We know her work is just getting started, and so is ours. So almost exactly two and a half years removed from the worst day of our lives, we could not be more excited to share that we have established The Georgia Claire Bowen IMPACT (Imagining More Possibilities in Advanced Cardiac Therapies) Initiative at Boston Children’s Hospital. 

We know that Georgia and many kids like her will need new hearts one day and that as many as 14,000 children will be hospitalized for heart failure within the next year. The GCB IMPACT initiative will tackle critical research projects and trial new therapeutic approaches that can help save and improve their lives.

 Georgia with her Cardio Thoracic Surgeon Dr. Francis Fynn-Thompson

We are so thankful to Dr. Christina VanderPluym and Dr. Fynn-Thompson for saving Georgia’s life. You will not find two more qualified people to be leading this work. We are beyond grateful to our families, friends and all the incredible people at Boston Children’s Hospital who helped make this happen. But most of all, we are forever indebted to our little disruptor. Georgia Claire, thank you for opening our eyes to all that can be achieved once you put your mind to it.

I’m going to start blogging more regularly so we can continue to share updates on the GCB IMPACT Initiative as well as other Petit Peony and family news. Please let me know in the comments section if there’s anything you’d like to hear more about! And stay tuned for next week, I’m really excited to share with all of you the story of our new company, GCB Medical Supply!


Xo,

Kate