Joni Graham
Havanue wins Medtrade award for buzz-worthy mobility bag
by Hannah Wolfson

Sometimes necessity really is the mother of invention.


For Joni Graham, the need was to find some income for her family—and the result was a gold award in the New Product Pavilion Providers’ Choice Awards (sponsored by HomeCare) for her Havanue saddlebag for mobility devices.

“About four years ago, our world was shattered when my husband unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack,” Graham said. “Our seven children and I were devastated. Not only did I lose my best friend and my rock, but I needed to figure out a way to support myself and the two kids who still lived at home. I had a high school diploma, no work experience and a mortgage.”

But she had sewing skills, so she started taking in mending and alterations to fill the gap. Then she got some requests from people who wanted bags to help them carry items on their walkers or wheelchairs.

“I went online and searched to see what was out there, and I found a few walker bags, but they were really lacking and complicated, and they looked sterile and medical,” she said. “I read the reviews on the bags to find out the complaints. I thought, ‘There’s a real need for this.’”

She started making prototypes and took them to assisted living facilities to get user feedback.

ResMedTaylor Nordberg (left) and Lizzy Blaylock led the design team for the AirFit N30.

The end result, the Havanue Bag, is designed help people who need assistance walking to stay organized and to gain independence. Graham designed it to fit on walkers, rollators, wheelchairs and motorized wheelchairs; it’s easily transferred from one device to another and also designed to be easy-open, even for users with limited dexterity. They come in a variety of patterns—both bright and neutral—and are washable and wipeable. The large pocket can hold a pillow if it’s being used on a wheelchair, and a walker can fold up even with the bag attached. And she made sure it would be attractive as well as functional, she said.

Graham was unfamiliar with the home medical equipment industry, but found out about Medtrade and decided she needed to be there on the fourth anniversary of her husband’s death. She and her best friend designed a booth backdrop that they could dismantle and fit—just barely—in Graham’s Subaru to make an all-night road trip to Atlanta from their home base of Bowie, Maryland.

“There was a lot of interest and buzz at our booth on both days,” she said. “Companies were coming up and talking to us and placing orders and telling us how much they needed something like this. It was crazy.”

The other winners of the Providers’ Choice Awards were: ResMed’s AirFit N30—which the company launched at the show—for the silver award and Handicare’s 1100 Straight Stairlift for the bronze award.

In other award news, Wendy Russalesi, chief compliance officer at AdaptHealth, was named the HME Woman of the Year, an award that recognizes a woman who has made significant contributions to her company and community and the industry throughout her career.

HandicareJeremy Bespalko accepts the bronze award for Handicare.

This year saw the debut of the Retail Product Pavilion, sponsored by VGM and designed to showcase cash products with potential for capturing customer interest. Much like the New Product Pavilion, attendees voted on their favorites, and the winners were:

PurWellLind celebrates the win with (from left): PurWell’s Jon Fedele, Nick DiFrancesco, Marc McKeever and Joshua Hoffman, as well as Rob Baumhover, director of retail at VGM Group.
  • Best in Show – PurWell
  • Honorable Mention – The STRONGBACK24 from Strongback Mobility USA; and
  • Honorable Mention – The FreeStyle Comfort Portable Oxygen Concentrator from CAIRE.

Medtrade 2019 saw nearly 80 new exhibitors, said Associate Show Director Mark Lind. Exhibitors reported good foot traffic and positive attendees.

While the vibe of the show was generally upbeat, tears were shed when AAHomecare President and CEO Tom Ryan announced that the beloved industry advocate Karyn Estrella, who passed away this summer, posthumously received the 2019 Van G. Miller Homecare Champion Award. Estrella was executive director of the Home Medical Equipment and Services Association of New England; her daughters accepted the award on her behalf.

“Karyn inspired others and mentored others,” Ryan said. “She cared.”

Hannah Wolfson is editor of HomeCare magazine.