A 'Lyfebulb' in the dark: Westport woman's program empowers patients of chronic illnesses

Dr. Karin Hehenberger, CEO and founder of Lyfebulb

Dr. Karin Hehenberger, CEO and founder of Lyfebulb

Contributed/Lyfebulb

WESTPORT — Dr. Karin Hehenberger said she has always been interested in improving the way patients are treated.

Hehenberger, who lives in Westport, is a medical doctor and a PhD, and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 20 years. Her main interest, she said, was innovation.

“I was always very interested in finding solutions to the problems people faced,” she said. “But I had never really taken into account patients’ own experience in identifying the specific needs they might have.”

She even repressed her own needs to some extent, she said.

Hehenberger is diabetic and was diagnosed more than 30 years ago. For a long time, she kept her condition secret. Then she developed complications that made her illness impossible to hide, including kidney problems and eye problems, she said.

As her condition worsened, Hehenberger needed two transplant surgeries — a kidney transplant in 2009 and a pancreas transplant in 2010. Actually having the surgeries, she said, made her much more knowledgeable about the kind of services and products someone who had been through a procedure might need and the challenges involved.

That realization led her to found Lyfebulb, which identifies itself as a “patient-empowerment platform” that connects patients with companies to help develop products to improve their quality of life, she said.

Lyfebulb also connects patients with other patients through such initiatives as its new site TransplantLyfe, a network of transplant patients, care providers, donors and experts.

Lyfebulb’s main goal is to give patients more agency as they battle their illness Hehenberger said.

“As a patient, you can often feel alone,” she said. “You feel like the receiver of information.”

With Lyfebulb, she said, patients have ways to tell others, whether it’s a company or another person, what they need.

Another of Lyfebulb’s programs is a regular “Innovation Challenge” rewarding patient entrepreneurs — someone whose experience with an illness, either as a patient or through someone they know, led them to form a company to address unmet needs.

Each challenge addresses a separate chronic illness. For instance, a finalist in one of the diabetes challenges came up with a cap for an insulin injection pen that keeps track of how much insulin a patient has dosed themselves with, and when. The winner of a mental health-focused challenge had developed a smart patch that tracks and improves biomarkers of mental health.

“We’re not going to find cures,” Hehenberger said. “We are looking to improve the quality of live — having people thrive, versus just survive.”

Earlier this year, Lyfebulb launched an innovation challenge aimed at helping people who, like Hehenberger, had gone through transplant surgery. One winner will be awarded a $25,000 monetary grant. Competing finalists may be considered for possible partnerships or investments beyond the challenge.

One of Lyfebulb’s supporters is Amanda DeJesus, 32, of Houston, Texas. DeJesus had a heart transplant 17 years ago and co-hosts a podcast called Unfiltered Survivors. Her co-host met a Lyfebulb representative at a conference, and they learned that Lyfebulb was developing the TransplantLyfe platform.

DeJesus helped develop the platform and said, since its launch, TransplantLyfe is getting new users daily. She said she’s proud to be associated with a program that helps people with a variety of chronic illnesses.

“Our journeys as survivors are not easy and we tend to feel alone,” DeJesus said. “It’s nice to be able to connect with others who understand. I also love their passion for trying to find innovative ways to help make our journeys easier.”