Jeff Kallberg graduated from high school in 1986 and could see his future plainly -- and painfully.
Born with hemophilia, Kallberg already had a damaged elbow and bad ankles. Repeated joint injuries lead to bleeding in the joints, which leads to arthritis.
He went to an orthopedist, looking for something -- anything -- to improve an outlook of pain and expensive medications. He asked: What about physical therapy?
"He gave me the shoulder shrug," Kallberg remembers. But he also gave the teenager a prescription for six physical therapy sessions. "They changed my life."
Kallberg's discovery that fitness and physical therapy could improve his life not only led to a career as a physical therapist -- but to an idea for a business. Coagulife, the pharmacy and therapy business he founded with his brother, Daniel, was recently acquired by BioRx of Cincinnati. Terms were not disclosed, but Kallberg said the deal will allow them to continue providing the unique care they've pioneered. BioRx officials and the Kallbergs say no one else in the United States provides such a combination of pharmaceutical, fitness and physical therapy.
"We see this going on a national scale," said Jeff Kallberg, 44.
Just as people with hemophilia take preventive clotting factor medications, a regimen that starts at about $300,000 a year and goes up, Kallberg discovered that a preventive physical training regimen could increase flexibility, improve strength and coordination and help avoid the injuries that hit hemophiliacs especially hard. That, he said, could also help save money.
It is the cornerstone of the Savage-based company the brothers founded in 2004. They expect BioRx to be more successful convincing major insurance companies of the benefits of paying for a more holistic healing approach to hemophilia.
"It's frustrating to try to get the idea across to payers," said Jeff Kallberg, who graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in physical therapy in 1994 and travels the country talking to groups.
The boys were part of a family of five kids. Older brother Dan, 46, says Jeff's hemophilia and frequent injuries and bouts of bleeding were no big deal. "It was just part of life growing up. It was all we knew."
In fact, he said, their parents were far from overprotective.
"We never pulled punches back then, although he probably got away with being able to break my glasses a few times."
Jeff still can break a few things if we wanted. In December 2000, he started taking taekwondo, earning a black belt about five years ago.
In 2004, the brothers decided to take the plunge, combining Jeff Kallberg's big idea for a range of therapies for people with hemophilia with Daniel Kallberg's attention to detail -- he had worked as a purchasing and asset manager for a construction company. It seemed like a good time to roll the dice, they said. Neither had kids yet.
Their first office was in south Bloomington, but they didn't have their own care facilities. Two years later, they took another plunge, installing a new hydrotherapy pool with a treadmill at a new facility in Savage. Jeff got the idea after borrowing the use of a similar pool at a senior care facility in Bloomington -- and seeing what it did for his clients.
Standing in the steamy room that houses their pool, Jeff said: "That was the spark to building an actual facility that we can focus on."
The Kallbergs will not divulge their client numbers and are tight-lipped about revenue, but business has grown over the years. Still, it has proved difficult to convince major insurers that their idea of holistic hemophilia care is effective. It's an incredibly expensive patient population, and most insurers focus only on the regimen of prophylaxis medication meant to control bleeding.
"If you look at any of the websites of our major competitors, you see no mention of physical services," said John Louis, a spokesman for BioRx. "We don't do it either. We just don't have the expertise."
Some insurance companies that used to pay for their customers' use of Coagulife now require them to use pharmacies affiliated with the insurer. BioRx, which was founded the same year as Coagulife, has been more successful in breaching those barriers. Louis said they are licensed in all 50 states and have customers in every state but Alaska and Hawaii.
Said Daniel Kallberg: "That's why we formed a relationship with BioRx."
It is not yet clear if Coagulife will change its name. But Jeff and Daniel Kallberg say their work will continue. In fact, BioRx is wasting little time tapping into Coagulife's expertise in combining physical therapy, health assessments and even a weight-loss program in its treatment for people with hemophilia. Jeff Kallberg is scheduled to meet next month with BioRx officials to begin developing a more comprehensive therapy program for the Cincinnati company.
"We've known Jeff for many years," said Phil Reilly, president and co-founder of BioRx. "He is deeply respected in the hemophilia community and the physical therapy profession. He and Daniel have built a successful business that complements our capabilities very well. Combined, both companies will continue to thrive in a highly competitive business environment."
The brothers say they can change the reality of care for people living with hemophilia.
"We're not thinking short-term," said Jeff Kallberg. "I'm not going to fix you in four months. We're talking years. But we can make it better."
James Walsh 612-673-7428