After being a somewhat typical breast-fed baby, at six months old, their son, AJ, suffered a 45-minute seizure. After a series of tests, doctors informed the Bombacinos that AJ had brain malformations of his cortical development, he may never walk or talk, and his life would certainly never be normal. The Bombacinos faced this difficult reality as AJ’s seizures continued. To make things worse, soon after this seizure, he struggled with what was thought to be severe, worsening reflux. A swallow study brought more difficult news: AJ needed a feeding tube for 100 percent of his nutrition; immediately.
For three months, the Bombacinos fed AJ traditional commercial formulas through his feeding tube, and for three months, AJ threw up five to 10 times per day, sustained regular seizures, was barely sleeping and experienced formula intolerance side effects like diarrhea, constipation, irritability and failure to thrive. The Bombacinos worked with registered dietitians and gastroenterologists to implement a variety of possible solutions, including a low-protein formula, a high-protein formula, low-fat formulas and even 24-hour feeding … but nothing seemed to work.
Unwilling to give up, the family took to the internet to find their own solution. Based on their research, the Bombacinos made a simple, yet profound decision: they would stop the formulas, blend at home and feed AJ a wide variety of real food.
“ Thanks to the power and ease of our Vitamix blender, we were able to quickly experiment with different food blends and take back some control. ”
AJ’s dietitian advised against this idea, scared that it would clog his feeding tube or that he wouldn’t get proper nutrition. The Bombacinos did more research to find a blender capable of making smooth food purees that would pass easily through their son’s feeding tube. In the end, they felt confident that a Vitamix was the only blender for the job.
“Our Vitamix was a little island in the storm,” said Julie Bombacino, AJ’s mom and co-founder/CEO of Real Food Blends. “Thanks to the power and ease of our Vitamix blender, we were able to quickly experiment with different food blends and take back some control.”
To start, the Bombacinos fed AJ just 10 ml of real, fresh food via his feeding tube — apples blended in a Vitamix machine — and nothing happened (in a good way). Over the next few months, the Bombacinos’ kitchen turned into a test kitchen, as they thought of what foods AJ should be eating at every stage, and how to best prepare those items. As a result of consuming real, whole foods, blended in a Vitamix blender, AJ started vomiting less, his hair growth and complexion improved, he was sleeping more, his digestion improved, he started progressing on his timeline, and he was, simply, happier.
“AJ was becoming a kid again, and the impact on us was huge,” said Tony Bombacino, AJ’s dad and co-founder/president of Real Food Blends. “It was a small pocket of normalcy; we felt like we started to turn a corner.”
Encouraged by their success and in need of a break, the Bombacinos decided to take a family vacation with AJ and his big sis, Luca. Not wanting to have to grocery shop, blend and meal plan during their vacation, they searched for shelf-stable blended food options that could take the place of their Vitamix blends for a week … but they didn’t exist.
“ Our mission is to ensure that all people with a feeding tube have easy access to 100 percent real-food meals and real nutritional variety — and to hopefully make life for people with a feeding tube (and their families) just a little easier. ”
Determined to help other families like their own, the Bombacinos spent the next two-and-a-half years creating what would become Real Food Blends: their company that offers a line of pre-packaged, shelf-stable, 100 percent real food meals for people with feeding tubes. With the help of some angel investors and a good amount of their own personal savings, the Bombacinos’ dream became a reality. Real Food Blends is now nearly seven years old, has sold millions of meals nationwide to tens of thousands of customers, offers six different real food meal options, and continues to be inspired by its online community of over 100,000 individuals that learn, share and advocate for people with feeding tubes and their loved ones every day.
“Eating meals with a wide variety of whole, blended foods — whether a home blend prepared with our Vitamix blender or a Real Food Blends meal — is not just about the nutrition, it’s about the emotional aspect of food, about sharing meals as a family, and feeling good about what you’re feeding your loved one,” said Tony. “People tell us ‘I feel human again, I can smell the different foods, and they sit more like a meal.’”
According to Julie, there are nearly 1 million people (kids and adults) in the U.S. that rely on a feeding tube for some or all of their nutrition, and over 400 different reasons and conditions why an individual may need a feeding tube. “Our mission is to ensure that all people with a feeding tube have easy access to 100 percent real-food meals and real nutritional variety — and to hopefully make life for people with a feeding tube (and their families) just a little easier,” said Julie.
AJ, now a healthy, thriving nine-year-old, is consuming 10 - 18 ounces of blended food per meal, three times per day. He enjoys a combination of Real Food Blends meals and customized home blends made with the Bombacinos’ Vitamix blender. “He knows what the blender sounds like, and he giggles when he hears it and often scoots into the kitchen to see what’s going on,” said Julie. “We can include him in meal time again, be adventurous with his nutrition and feed him more like us — and that means a lot.”