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After losing her dream career of nursing to her illness, Kenna Krueger talks about her experience finding her true passion in life and starting her own business to help others with chronic illnesses.
“I knew I wanted to go into the medical field when I was really young,” said Krueger. “In middle school, I discovered that the NICU was a thing, and I absolutely fell in love. And I was like, okay, I want to work in the NICU.”
While in nursing school, Krueger was diagnosed with gastroparesis, paralysis of the stomach. A disease that has no cure. Diet and lifestyle changes can manage the symptoms for some, but others need surgeries, feeding tubes, or IV fluids and nutrition.
Krueger got increasingly sick during her final semester and after a trip to the ER, she had a non-surgical nasal feeding tube placed. With a new medical device to help her manage her condition, she went back to her classes.
“I thought they were going to be so accommodating because if I didn't go to the ER that day I could have died. And now I have a feeding tube. They're gonna understand that right? They're like, take it out, or you can't finish school.”
And so she did. Despite her low nutritional intake and debilitating symptoms, she pulled out her tube and worked hard to finish her last semester. Krueger graduated nursing school amidst the COVID pandemic, having had no accommodations or support from her school, now ready to begin her dream career.
“Places weren't hiring because it was only central personnel that they wanted. They didn't want to waste their few supplies on new grads and training. Healthcare was buckling down to fight the Covid pandemic. I’ve got all this extra time, what do I do, then I just started a Youtube Channel.”
Krueger began her channel with fashion and food videos, but quickly opened up about her story with her chronic illnesses. With a three-part video series, she explained what gastroparesis is and how it affected her. Her channel quickly grew, reaching many others with the same or similar illnesses who felt alone. She created a community.
Before long, Krueger got a job on a pediatric med surge floor. While she wasn’t working in the NICU, she was still working with kids and babies and doing what she loved. For three months, she worked at her dream job, before getting even sicker.
“My body was just so tired of everything that I don't think I can get up and go to work anymore. I think I might actually collapse if I go.”
Due to severe malnutrition, Krueger was hospitalized. After some testing, she had a surgical feeding tube placed and quit her job. Back at home with a new medical device, Krueger found something called tubie pads. They’re made for feeding tubes as reusable gauze to keep around a feeding tube stoma site. They can be made with any color or pattern fabric and help to bring a little personality to medical devices.
The existing market for tubie items typically aimed at moms with young kids with feeding tubes. A lot of the styles reflected a younger target market audience with dinosaurs and Disney prints and bright garish colors.
“I couldn't really find much in my aesthetic,” Krueger said. “I have a sewing machine. I just have it. I wasn't that advanced at the time. I've only done a few things and I was like I don't know if I can make it. This looks really complicated.”
Krueger’s now husband, Joseph Nguyen, took her to Joannes and they picked out some fabric together. Despite her lack of confidence in herself, he insisted that she could make them herself. So she tried.
After posting a video to TikTok, Krueger’s online community fell in love with her sense of style and creations, with styles ranging from checkered patterns to floral prints, neutral colors to pastels and holiday prints. In May of 2021, she opened her Etsy shop. Every single product launch since then has sold out in minutes.
“I love what these products are able to do for other people. And I just want to continue to challenge myself in my business as well with creating new things, because I started with just one product. And now I have so many different products that I just love.”