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Tube feeding with real food: Indiana couple inspired by son

(WNDU)
Published: Sep. 13, 2017 at 3:31 PM EDT
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Any parent of a baby or toddler knows that they can be finicky eaters.

While most of us have had our struggles at dinner time, imagine having a child who will never put food to mouth.

That prompted a Chesterton, Indiana, mom and dad to produce 100 percent real food for feeding tube patients, helping thousands.

On March 20, 2011, the Bombacino family’s second child, son AJ, came into the world. They had an older daughter, Luca, and all seemed right with the world.

But their mom, Julie, says things quickly changed. “He had a seizure when he was five-and-a-half months old.”

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,” Julie explained.

Tony and Julie couldn't imagine a life where they couldn't feed their own 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 pretty important, it is certainly a change for us,” Tony admitted.

The Bombacinos tried many different formulas by feeding tube to nourish AJ, but his system wasn’t handling the formula often used. He was vomiting seven to ten times a day. “He was aspirating, which was a very typical reason for people to get feeding tubes. We kind of had PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) from hearing him waking up and choking and vomiting all night,” Julie explained.

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,” Julie said.

Within two days of their experiment, AJ started to thrive on real food rather than formula. Julie was ecstatic. “He's eating fruits and vegetable and whole grains, all the things you and I would choose to put into our bodies.”

Tony added, “We saw his hair started growing, his nails, all the things you take for granted. He wasn't as irritable, he was more playful and exploring, and color came back to his skin too.”

Tony and Julie say their real lightbulb moment came when they wanted to take Luca and AJ to Disney World and found out pre-packaged foods for feeding tubes, like they’d been making in their kitchen, didn’t exist. Tony says at that point, “We were kind of crazy enough and desperate enough to do something about it.”

After a lot of research came the birth of Real Food Blends. Not only could they feed AJ with 100 percent food, but millions of others on feeding tubes could receive nutritious and easily digestible meals. “Most of it came out of our kitchen,” Julie said, referring to the recipes.

Now the food is being mass-produced and is even being used now for tube-fed patients in both the prestigious Mayo and Cleveland clinics. Julie says, “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.”

Tony explains that they offer four different meals, soon to be five, packed with nutrition. “It's things like chicken and fish and vegetables and grains, it wasn't complex, 74 different things. We just thought about how we eat and bring the human side back to feeding.”

They're feeding their happy son with love and sharing what they've learned with others facing the same dilemma. Julie says, “We're thankful for what we have with our son and we are incredibly thankful that he's inspired this, and thousands and thousands of people now are benefitting because of him.”

When you look at AJ playing with his sister, you see a happy boy, eating the same things his family does, just in a different way.

“They feel human again,” Tony says of AJ and others throughout the United States.

They're just happy their own experience led to a company that is helping so many.

Real Food Blends is covered by a majority of public and private insurance companies with a prescription from your doctor.

Also, as a way of giving back to the special needs community, their food is distributed by the Easter Seals Organization in Indianapolis, which employs disabled workers.

The Bombacinos have a very helpful website and Facebook page to answer all your questions.

Visit the website at

and the Facebook page at