Where Love and Necessity Meet

By Danielle Wong Moores
Photos courtesy of Mackey Mask

Having her healthy, perfect baby son suddenly diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) — a disease most people have never heard of and one that took her months to even pronounce — was hard enough, says mom Tara Melton. But the hardest part was having to thread nearly a foot of tubing down Mackey’s nose and into his stomach, making sure to avoid his airway, then taping it to his face so it would stay in place. 

The industrial-strength adhesive tape, which had to be reapplied again and again, hurt the delicate skin of Mackey’s face. Sometimes when he napped, pressure on the tube would cause the spout to open, draining the day’s hard-fought feeding out of his stomach. 

“It is just so defeating,” says Melton. “I felt like I had this best-case scenario because I had a lot of friends who were nurses and they were able to support me … but if I’m having this hard of a time and I have all of this support around me, I can’t imagine how parents who don’t have that type of support are doing this.” 

There had to be a better way.

Melton — a Dallas transplant who worked in information technology consulting for years, including at tech giant Accenture — specializes in identifying problems and implementing technology to help solve those problems. 

Nothing was on the market to help parents of children with nasogastric (NG) tubes, and EoE is just one disease of hundreds where a child might need to be fed through one. For parents, the biggest problem is placing the NG tube correctly into the stomach — and not the lungs — to secure the tube so it won’t come out or accidentally drain the stomach contents. 

Melton says she sketched out her original idea for Mackey Mask as a “terrible little napkin drawing” — envisioning a circle that would sit on the back of the head, with a soft strap in the front and across the cheek that would hold the NG tube in place. She knew creating and selling a medical device would be a lot of work, but she thought, “I can work hard, I can do this.”

“It’s the story of what a parent will do for their child … at least I could always tell my kids I’m willing to bet it all on changing the world for you.”

Tara melton

Her husband, Dr. Christopher Melton, an orthopedic surgery resident at the Medical College of Georgia, thought it was a great idea, and her father, Scott Kesner, became her first investor, which allowed her to turn her drawing into a prototype and start her company.  

Headquartered in Augusta, Mackey Mask officially launched in October 2023, and has already attracted interest from families across the U.S. and hospitals internationally, including in Australia. 

Mackey thankfully no longer must wear an NG tube — his EoE is under control — but he did test several prototypes during the design process. “That’s why we say on our Facebook page, ‘Inspired by Our Child, Created for Yours.’ I just did not want to live in a world where there were not other options,” says Melton. “I knew this was a problem, I had the resources to do something about it, and I was going to do it no matter what.” 

The final product, made of powder-soft, hypoallergenic, medical-grade silicone, holds an NG tube securely. And while the process of threading the tube into the right position will never be pleasant, it makes it a little easier. 

Photos on Mackey Mask’s social media show children swinging, running, riding bikes, playing soccer — all while wearing the Mackey mask and an NG tube. “Because an NG tube should not be what defines what a child can do every day,” says Melton. 

She adds, “We were able to turn a really difficult time in our lives into a huge positive that we hope gives tons of kids and families just a much better experience than what we had …. It’s also the story of what a parent will do for their child. 

If nothing else, if we were to never sell one mask … at least I could always tell my kids I’m willing to bet it all on changing the world for you. So, the fact that it’s out there helping people is just beyond my wildest dreams.” 

For more on Tara and Mackey’s story, visit mackeymask.com. 

Seen in the February/March 2024 issue of Augusta magazine.

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