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Brother’s Dying Wish Turns Into Family Business

Tory Johnson

Her brother's dying wish led Deb Papes-Stanzak to launch a business steeped in service to her family and thousands of others. There is such a need for the product she provides, the first shipment sold out almost immediately.

While undergoing dialysis, Ron Papes complained of being cold because of the short-sleeve shirts he wore to accommodate his treatment port. Blankets to stay warm proved to be a hassle and traditional hospital gowns were unflattering.

So his sister used her experience as a seamstress and retail sales professional to design a jacket with a dual-tab zipper in the arm to allow easy and direct access to the port, while maintaining warmth throughout the upper body.

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"I came in the next day and he said, 'You're going to be a millionaire,'" recalls Papes-Stanzak in My Family Business. "'Everyone wants one of these. How can you make more? The nurses love it, too.'"

Papes-Stanzak launched RonWear in 2009 to manufacture treatment wear, including coordinating jackets and pants for men and women undergoing dialysis and chemotherapy. For them, warmth and comfort should be a given, but unfortunately they're not. RonWear fills that gap.

"It's a stylish faux jogging suit that has enclosed zippers where the ports are and that enables people to look normal and feel warm and comfortable in treatment."

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After losing her brother Ron, followed by her mother and husband, Papes-Stanzak wasn't sure she could carry on.

"When I got started going into centers, I would turn around and say, 'I can't do this, I can't do this.' I went home and cried," she recalls. "But when I started talking to patients and they said, 'This changed the course of treatment for me,' I thought this is what my family would want me to do. "

Innovation is evident in every piece of RonWear apparel. Antimicrobial finishes help prevent odors and minimize the spread of bacteria. Stain and fluid-resistant finishes allow for quick cleaning of blood and other fluids. Elastic in the pants and jacket accommodate bloat among patients. There's even a media pocket for a cell phone or player.

Papes-Stanzak has kept the Cleveland-based company to just a few employees, and she's passionate about continuing her family's legacy.

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"RonWear is my brother's signature, so every time I see it, I think of him," she says. "He was my bud, my best friend. I am very happy that he really wanted to make a difference with other people and hopefully am doing that, too."

Tory Johnson hosts My Family Business, a Yahoo! Finance original series. As a champion for small business owners, she runs Spark & Hustle, appears weekly on ABC's Good Morning America and will gladly talk to you anytime @ToryJohnson on Twitter or Facebook.com/Tory.