When the Bombacino family brought their second child, a son named AJ, into the world to join Tony, Julie, and sister Luca, he looked the picture of health, but things quickly changed.
"He had a seizure when he was five and a half months old," said his mother, Julie Bombacino.
A 45-minute seizure landed AJ in the hospital for about a week and started their special needs journey.
"Primarily it was epilepsy, so he has seizures, which can cause a whole bunch of different issues,” said Julie.
Julie and AJ's father Tony Bombacino couldn't imagine a life where they couldn't feed their child, except through a feeding tube.
But he had one placed in his little tummy at six months of age.
"Coming from a big Italian family where food is important, it was certainly a change for us," said Tony.
The Bombacino's tried many different formulas to nourish AJ through a feeding tube, but he was losing ground, vomiting seven to ten times a day.
Going back to their Italian roots, they wondered why they couldn't process real food and put that in AJ's feeding tube, ensuring he would get the calories he needed to thrive.
"I kind of felt like we had nothing to lose. I mean, I vividly remember pushing 10 ml's, so like a teaspoon of applesauce into his tube and then standing back like something was going to happen. Really thinking this was amazing, really, I just put food in there," said Julie.
Within two days of their experiment, AJ, while non-verbal, started to thrive on real food rather than formula.
"He was eating fruits and vegetables and lean proteins and whole grains and all of the stuff that you and I would choose to put in our bodies," said Julie.
Tony and Julie say their real lightbulb moment came when they wanted to take Luca and AJ to Disney world and found there were no pre-packaged foods for feeding tubes.
After a lot of research, Tony and Julie started a business called Real Food Blends - not only feeding AJ but millions of others on feeding tubes with nutritious and easily digestible meals.
Now being mass-produced and even being used in both the prestigious Mayo and Cleveland clinics.
"It seems surreal, we're this little tiny company in northwest Indiana, and sometimes this can be very isolating with just our family here, but we've sold millions of meals now," said Tony.
They're feeding their happy son with love and sharing what they've learned with others facing the same dilemma.
From eggs to apples and salmon or quinoa, Real Foods meals don’t need refrigeration and don’t contain preservatives. And it’s often covered by most insurance companies.
They are also looking for wholesale partners who want to help others with family members with special dietary needs.
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