Tornado throws new twist at HME start-up

Saturday, May 31, 2003

MANCHESTER, Tenn. — A freak tornado last November that destroyed his house could have wiped out Willard Sartain and his family’s plan to open their own home medical equipment company.

Fortunately, other than some bumps and bruises and a few broken bones, the Sartains weathered the storm and opened Oxygen Plus in January. The company already serves 300 patients, about half of whom receive home respiratory therapy.

“We are all right now,” said Willard’s daughter, Cindy Black, 38, who was at the house when the tornado struck during a family gathering that followed a funeral. “My grandmother is still on a walker. She is 76 and had a broken hip and femur.

“I had a brick wall and gun case fall on my left side. I was really sore for months, and still am a little bit. I wouldn’t recommend brick, it’s kind of heavy. I feel pretty good in my aluminum-sided house.”

Willard Sartain, 60, owns the company. Black, 38, heads up sales and marketing. Son Nathan Sartain, 21, is a delivery tech. The three worked together for two years at another HME before deciding they could do it just as well themselves, and left with eight co-workers to start Oxygen Plus.

Prior to getting into the HME business, Willard worked 31 years at Batesville Casket Company, from which he retired.

“It was a great job, I can’t complain,” Willard said. “But when you are making caskets, you are putting somebody in the ground, and I just wanted to do something different.”

Now he’s meeting new people and helping them and he loves it, Willard said.

“We felt we could do it on our own and we took a shot and it has worked out,” he added. HME