AJ Leveille owns several successful businesses in Canada, has a passion for travel, and is an avid mountain climber—he knows what it’s like to face life’s unexpected obstacles. But when an illness took away his health nearly a decade ago, he never imagined it would lead to ileostomy surgery. AJ felt on his own for the first time trying to navigate through life with a stoma.
A few years ago he placed all of the ostomy supplies and nutritional supplements he was using on a table and asked himself one question, “How can I help other ostomates find products easily and receive the support and guidance they need?”
With a mission to help ostomates live their best life, AJ co-founded Inner Good in 2016 as a "modern medical online store" exclusively in Canada. They offer an extensive selection of ostomy, wound, continence products and nutritional supplements along with several services, including pharmacy support. Inner Good is also one of the first home delivery medical suppliers in Canada to launch an online ET Nurse consultation service.
I interviewed AJ to find out more about the inspiration behind Inner Good and how his company is changing the way people shop for medical supplies.
What was your motivation for starting Inner Good?
At 30, I developed a severe case of ulcerative colitis and was hospitalized. Over the next two years I had multiple treatments, lost nearly one-third of my body weight, and in 2005 had ostomy surgery to remove my colon. I chose to have a second surgery in 2015 to make my ileostomy permanent. After nearly a decade of living with a stoma, I realized how difficult it was for me to locate ostomy supplies, get access to an ET nurse, and find support—all from the comfort of my home. I saw these obstacles as an opportunity to try something different that could truly help ostomates live life on their terms.
What are some challenges your customers face when navigating all the different ostomy products on the market?
When our customers turn to us for help, the biggest challenge is finding an ostomy system that works for them. I had the same problem as a new ostomate. With literally hundreds of choices, how do you know what’s right for you? Ordering the correct products for your ostomy type is key, for example, having an ileostomy and wearing a 1-piece closed-end system is probably not be the best option. With so many brands available it’s hard to try everything, but I would encourage people to use a variety of products until they find what works best for them.
How do you live life to the fullest with an ostomy?
I do not let an ostomy control my life! Mentally, it was incredibly important for me to come to grips with having a stoma early on, and being okay with it. That meant self-care, not relying on caregivers to change my appliance, and getting back into everyday activities again. I had to push any issues aside and start looking at my ostomy as something that improved my life, not ruined it. I felt encouraged by reading stories about other ostomates like Rob Hill, Jessica Grossman and Julie Singer.
Describe your greatest achievement since having an ostomy?
I’ve traveled to amazing destinations such as Japan, South Africa, Lesotho, Dubai, Russia and Morocco. I climbed many summits over the years, including Washington’s Mount Baker and Kala Patthar in the Nepalese Himalayas. But the creation of Inner Good absolutely tops the list. I’ve always wanted to make a difference in people's lives, and having a business where I feel a connection with our customers is incredible.
What is your best piece of advice for a new ostomate?
Get involved with a local ostomy support chapter. Ostomy Canada Society chapters and the Vancouver United Ostomy Association are great organizations to meet other people with ostomies who understand what you’re going through and learn valuable information.
What are three ostomy products that you can’t live without?
Flange: might seem straightforward, but a proper fitting, non-irritating flange is the most important ostomy product I can think of.
Smith and Nephew Opsite tape: I use this product around the flange as an added layer of adhesion. It’s a clear, skin-friendly tape that allows the outer part of the flange to remain firmly secure. It also helps extend my wear time and works wonders for me.
Kimberly Clark lint-free wipes: this is an absolute must for me. What I do is rip the large piece into 4 smaller pieces and use them to clean up my skin around the stoma area before re-applying a new flange.
What brings you inner good?
Doing something every day to change someone’s life for the better. And knowing that I'm not alone in my ostomy journey.