Sandy Wheeler's 40 years as an entrepreneur focused on health and wellness businesses has brought him the thrill of victory, building fitness giant Nautilus, and the agony of defeat with the loss of a promising cancer-treatment company to a hurricane. Add to that the frustration of finding a bureaucratic roadblock preventing large-scale use of a device to treat peripheral neuropathy.
Now Wheeler, 68, is about to unveil what he is confident will be an important addition to the success list. It's an initiative to build a non-profit enterprise around an app, called "Life's Journey of Hope," that will provide a LinkedIn-like communication "Time Capsule" for those who have cancer.
Wheeler explained his sense that while there are medical efforts going on to impact cancer itself and organizations seeking to help with logistics for cancer patients and their families, what's missing is "a tool to help patients share their thoughts and feelings with loved ones and those close to them."
Wheeler says the app is designed to "provide encouragement and hope to the patients and those closest to them throughout their struggle with the disease and to save the documentation of the journey, in voice, pictures and thoughts, for future generations."
While Wheeler's entrepreneurial efforts have involved a range of businesses, he likes to say that the one thing they have all had in common is the potential to improve lives.
And the Vietnam veteran's creation of the cancer-related app, and a 501c3 called Life's Journey of Hope.org.to get it into the market, may prove to be a dramatic example of that.
"The intent of creating this as a non-profit is that people won't have to pay a dime for it but will merely need a letter from their doctors certifying that they have cancer," explained Wheeler, who shared that his father in law had died of pancreatic cancer and that his sister has aggressive breast cancer.
"These Time Capsules will allow the chronicling of the journey with words, pictures and voice, and each family member will have access to create his or her own Time Capsule to capture and share their feelings with the cancer patient throughout the journey," Wheeler added.
"This app will be able to capture text, video, photos with context, music, snapshots and other items with various privacy settings managed by the owner."
"The patient will be encouraged to immediately create videos or voice communication for their spouse, their children, grandchildren and anyone else they desire to share with," Wheeler added.
"This is a highly vetted and private app and the patient and the respective family members select those they are closest to for participation in this challenging journey through the cancer ordeal," he explained.
Wheeler's goal is the 501c3 will be funded through tax-deductible donations and be headquartered in Wenatchee, where Wheeler grew up and spent most of his adult life, when he wasn't off starting businesses, and where he and his wife raised their two sons.
The app won't be Wheeler's first involvement with a business designed to address cancer issues.
The first time had to do with a company he founded more than 15 years ago that was producing a trial treatment for breast cancer in which initial samples were administered to Stage 4 patients to extend their lives with what he describes now as "remarkable results."
"The technology had so much promise that it seemed we were right on target," he says, still evidencing the impact the tragic natural disaster that wiped out the company had on him.
It was 2001 and the samples, all stored on the first floor of the MD Anderson Cancer center in Houston, were destroyed when Tropical Storm Allison swept over Texas the Gulf region, hit Houston and flooded the main floor of the cancer research facility.
"I can't even describe the despair since it wasn't something that could just be started over, as it involved years of collecting and then growing the natural protein from healthy breasts," Wheeler said. "It was devastating,"
Despite his many successes, Wheeler notes that one of the most important lessons he has learned is how to deal with failures.
"When you fail, you can sulk or you can pick your chin up and get going."
And that's what he is doing coming back from what he views as a bureaucratic excess in the form of an unexplained pushback from Medicare on reimbursement for his device that he describes as "a quantum leap forward in the field of neuro-muscular stimulation."
He's referring to device that delivers electrical signal therapy to treat peripheral neuropathy. It was approved by the FDA almost 20 years ago and marketed by his Wenatchee-based VCare Health Systems to treat an array of lreg, back and joint pains.
But when it became clear that it successfully addressed peripheral neuropathy, he and other investors envisioned a series of clinics around the country. Then came the Medicare decision that would have required an individual therapist working with each patient, the costs could no longer pencil out.
But the Medicare debacle, when he learned that there is no appeal from its decisions and that even Congress has indicated it can't address the problems, deserves its own future column.
But thanks to three men in Arizona whose use of the electrical stimulation device made them believers and who have the resources to partner with him, they are now seeking to determine if the device can be rolled out with enough cash users (those who can afford a price reduced to the minimum possible) to be a viable business.
Wheeler is best known for guiding the success of BowFlex from its first product in 1986 6o become the leading company in the field of home fitness cardio and strength products.
BowFlex, as it grew and went public on the Toronto exchange, purchased Nautilus, Stairmaster and Schwinn Fitness, and changed the corporate name to the Nautilus Group Inc.. Now located in Vancouver, the company produced sales in excess of $500 million per year.
He'd be pleased to become equally well known as the creator of the cancer-assist app.