Loved ones question the hospital feeding formula given to local coma patient
Patty Concannon faces an internal struggle every day over how to feed her 21-year-old son.
Ryan Concannon had recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in biology when a Sept. 21 bicycle accident put him in a coma. Before the accident, he worked at Companion Bakeshop, an organic, artisan bakery on the Westside, and was an outspoken advocate of whole, organic, humanely raised and locally grown foods.
In fact, Jeremy Lampel, Ryan’s boss at Companion Bakeshop, says if he were to choose one qualifying characteristic to describe Ryan it would be his attitude toward food.
When he heard that Ryan was in the ICU, Lampel says his first thought was, “Oh no, he’ll be getting a standard hospital [food] formula, which isn't in line with any of his principal beliefs at all.”
As a registered dietitian who worked in hospitals for years, went on to receive his master’s degree in nutrition, and is supervising nutritionist at the Community Bridges Women Infant and Children (WIC) nutrition program, Lampel was already aware of the ingredients used for standard pharmaceutical formulas that most hospitals feed to coma and other ICU patients.
Lampel’s concerns were soon confirmed. It dawned on Patty to inquire about the formula when she remembered a conversation she once had with Ryan about hospital food for ICU patients.
“I originally heard about this from Ryan, of all people,” Patty writes in an email. “He had spoken with me with such disdain about the conversation he had with Jeremy [Lampel]. Ryan was upset that people in their most vulnerable state got fed the worst possible food.”
When she asked a nutritionist at San Jose Regional Medical Center, the hospital where Ryan began his ICU treatment, about the manufacturer and ingredients of food he was receiving, she says she was shocked to discover that all of the feeding tube food formulas available on the market consist of “crap.”
“Basically it is corn chips and candy,” she says, adding that she has not been able to determine whether or not the formulas contain genetically modified ingredients (GMO).
Ryan’s sister, Megan Concannon, who moved to Santa Cruz in August, says her brother is against GMO foods, and had planned to vote for California’s Proposition 37 in this year’s election, which would have required manufacturers to label GMO food products.
“It’s sad because it seems like the food they’re using in the hospital formula is probably the cheapest food they can get,” she says. “It’s kind of what’s subsidized in America, those really cheap crops—corn and soy—that aren’t great for someone who’s recovering from something.”
The first six items on the 39-item ingredients list for one of the standard formulas Ryan has been fed, an Abbot Nutrition pharmaceutical brand formula called TwoCal Hn Ready-to-Drink Butter Pecan, are: water, corn syrup solids, sodium and calcium casenites, corn maltodextrin, high oleic safflower oil, and sugar. The list also includes artificial flavors, taurine, a number of synthetic vitamins, and soy lecithin, among other things.
As of press time, Abbot Nutrition had not responded to GT’s requests for information about the food producers and processes behind their feeding formula ingredients, including whether their ingredients contain GMOs.
Patty says she felt it was her duty to help her son receive the best nutrition possible, so she contacted Lampel and they worked to design an alternative, whole-foods formula to feed Ryan. They reached out to medical professionals, nutritionists, and dieticians who helped them come up with three potential formulas that Ryan’s family could show relevant hospital staff members.
Four specialists with master’s and other degrees in nutrition and medicine, including Dr. John Alpsey, M.D., helped to develop those whole-food formulas with key ingredients like organic whey, organic coconut milk, organic dried fruit powders, organic brown rice powder, and flax seed oil.
But citing concerns over food safety and liability issues, to date, the long-term acute rehab facility in Marin where Ryan is currently staying has refused to allow his family to feed him an alternative formula, according to Patty.
At press time, the hospital had not responded to multiple interview requests.
Patty says in an email that while many of the nurses at the hospital are supportive and have voiced support for the new whole-foods formula off the record, she has hit roadblocks in working with the hospital doctors, nurses and dieticians from the beginning. She says that staff members at first assured her they would be able use the alternative formula, then days later told her they could not.
“That was one of my worst days, the day they said no
in the ICU,” she says. “We have begged them to put him on our formula.”
Patty is continuing to fight for her son’s nutrition. At one point, Ryan was given a second formula, “Compleat,” which is manufactured by Nestle pharmaceutical brand and has some actual ground-up food in its ingredients. However, the calorie content was not high enough and Ryan began to lose weight. Patty allowed the hospital to put Ryan back on the original Abbot brand TwoCal HN formula.
One of the professionals Lampel contacted when concocting the alternative formulas for Ryan is Robin Gentry McGee, a whole foods chef and holistic life coach from Ohio.
McGee faced a dilemma similar to the Concannons’ when her father suffered a brain injury and coma in 2005.
“Very early on I looked at this formula they were pouring down his feeding tube and I realized that it was garbage,” she says. She kept the first can of feeding formula that she read the ingredients list for, and calls it “the can I picked up that changed my life.” She searched for a clean, whole foods formula and couldn’t find any.
“So I began looking at a food-as-medicine model and I created a feeding tube formula for him based on all of the conditions within his body,” she says. The formula contained 25 different organic, whole food ingredients like super foods and omega threes.
Her father soon recovered.
“Within six weeks the healing was [so] profound that his M.D. called me up and told me it was a miracle,” McGee says. “But it wasn’t a miracle, it was nutrition.”
McGee went back to school to study medical nutrition further, and began working with individuals to help develop recipes for their loved ones to present to hospitals. She says, however, that hospitals very rarely allowed the new formulas to be used because the ingredients were not yet shelf stable, had to be kept on ice, and were not produced through a certified manufacturer.
But, after six years of preparation and research, McGee launched the first-ever organic, non-GMO, whole foods, vegan, and shelf stable feeding tube formula to be released through a USDA-certified, FDA-approved facility. It is called “Liquid Hope,” after the nickname she gave her father’s original formula.
More than 300 individuals, hospitals, and other healthcare providers are on the waiting list for Liquid Hope, including Ryan Concannon. The product will begin a sample run Dec. 17, and then enter full production for the mass market in February.
McGee says she sees no reason why hospital dieticians would deny patients access to Liquid Hope because it is a shelf-stable product that meets the food safety requirements for standard feeding tube formulas.
Ryan’s eyes have been opening lately and appear to be tracking better, which his sister Megan says is exciting, but not necessarily indicative of him awakening from the coma.
“It means everything to us because it’s great to see his eyes, but we don’t know what that means in terms of his general prognosis,” she says.
She is hoping her brother will pass a swallowing test soon, in which case family members could feed him directly.
“We’re keeping really hopeful,” she says. “Just being able to keep positive energy for him is really helpful.”
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