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Entrepreneur Pivots To Offer PPE

By David Frederiksen, posted Jun 5, 2020
Sean Hensler’s surgical devices firm is now also selling personal protective equipment (PPE). (Photo by Michael Cline Spencer)
Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers. But what happens when a viral pandemic hits?
 
If you’re Sean Hensler, one of the founders and CEO of Hensler Surgical Technologies LLC, you pivot.
 
“Realizing that so many health care teams were struggling with basic personal protective equipment (PPE) against coronavirus, I felt compelled to help in any way I could,” said Hensler, a certified physician assistant specializing in brain and spine surgery.
 
Hensler’s solution was to establish Hensler Surgical PPE Products, an additional product line and a shift from his usual core business developing and supplying highly specialized neurosurgery and orthopedic surgical devices.
 
The speed at which Hensler seized the day, as it were, seemed directly proportional to the accelerated rate in which the virus was spreading. Time was of the essence, and “mobilizing such an effort” to create a new product offering would take logistics and manpower, he said.
 
“I called on all my [company] reps, and many more contacts I had worked with in the past,” said Hensler. “Their response to help in this huge undertaking was overwhelmingly positive.”
 
Despite an ongoing nationwide PPE shortage, Hensler said he and his team worked diligently with “vetted suppliers” in the United States to locate and purchase FDA-approved products and supplies, ranging from protective respiratory masks and COVID point-of-care testing kits to protective garments and high-frequency UV light disinfection systems.
 
Soon, Hensler PPE products were finding homes in health care facilities and organizations throughout the Port City and beyond.
 
But there was more to the problem.
 
“Once I started supplying health care workers, I was walking around town and observed how there was little to no focus on the protection of those outside of health care,” said Hensler. “What about them?”
 
Again, for Hensler, another shift from the usual. It was at that moment he decided to open up for sale his medical and surgical grade PPE to the general public.
 
“If it’s good enough for hospital workers and frontline teams, it’s good enough to be acquired by anyone,” said Hensler. “No one should have to use less than optimal equipment.”
 
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are four categories (Levels A-D) of PPE based on degree of protection. Equipment ranges from work uniforms and full- or half-face masks to skin and eye protection and, ultimately, fully encapsulating chemical protective suits.
 
It was “ethics and a sense of duty” that moved Hensler to account for the general public, he said, a personal mission to “provide ... proper protection for anyone who seeks it.”
 
“Those outside health care have families and are still trying to work but need adequate protection, just like health care workers,” he said.
 
Providing protection isn’t something new to Hensler, having served from 1996 to 2001 in the Marine Corps as a hospital corpsman, including overseas deployments. After obtaining his physical therapy and master of medical science degrees, Hensler began working in neurosurgery in 2005 with then-attending physician Thomas Melin, a Wilmington neurosurgeon.
 
Hensler and company co-founder Melin launched Hensler Surgical Technologies in 2011, debuting the patented Hensler Bone Press in 2012. The surgical device maximizes the collection and separation of bone during certain surgeries.
 
In February 2011, Hensler attended a combination spine conference and ski trip in Aspen, Colorado. An old back injury from his military days “that showed its ugly head in 2010,” however, kept him from skiing. Hensler nonetheless found a slope, the upward slope to invention.
 
“I went to the local coffee shop and saw a French press [coffee press] and started thinking, could that work for separating bone and blood? It gave me something to do that week, and I took a shuttle into Aspen and found a computer in a gas station where I worked all week,” he said.
 
Hensler said that this same spirit of commitment, along with standards and practices developed over almost a decade in business, applies to the newly minted Hensler PPE.
 
“Customer service is a top priority, and we offer purchasing through our website,” said Hensler.
 
Out-of-market sales include Charlotte, Raleigh and even Michigan, said Hensler. One of his most impactful products, said Hensler, is the COVID POC Testing Kit, a 10-minute, rapid point-of-care test for detecting COVID-19 antibodies.
 
“It has been a massive tool in our arsenal to get Wilmington and beyond back to work and home safely,” said Hensler. “PPE and COVID testing were where I felt I could make the most impact.”
 
In addition, Hensler Surgical PPE has made “significant” donations of PPE to health care and non-health care workers alike “who were in desperate need,” he said.
 
As businesses enter the COVID-19 era, adapting to new marketplace demands will require an open mind, a humble heart and a watchful eye, said Hensler.
 
“Simply observe a need and help all the people you can,” he said. “That’s the true bottom line.”

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