NEW YORK — A Gerber research plant is retooling to resume production for a market of one: a profoundly allergic 15-year-old boy who cannot live without a special baby formula the company stopped making five years ago.
For a few days this month, one quarter of the production space at the Gerber Products Co. research center in Fremont, Mich., will be devoted to making MBF, a formula that only Raymond Dunn Jr. needs and which Gerber is providing free.
"People here are working on this on their own time," Gerber research director George Purvis said Thursday. "We all have our own jobs, and this is one we added on."
Raymond, who lives with his parents in the Catskills town of Yankee Lake, weighs 31 pounds. He was born with an abnormally small head and brain. He is severely physically and mentally retarded and cannot speak or see.
And, since the age of 5, Raymond has been allergic to almost every form of nourishment. All that kept him alive was Gerber's MBF, an expensive, meat-based formula for allergic infants.
But in 1985, faced with declining sales, Gerber stopped making the brown liquid formula. The Dunns tried dozens of alternatives, but they all made Raymond sick.
Gerber agreed to reveal its formula and process for making MBF to any manufacturer who would supply Raymond, but none was willing or able.
"We scrounged around for every can of the stuff that was in existence," Purvis said, including many whose expiration date had passed. After obtaining a Food and Drug Administration waiver, Gerber began delivering them to the Dunns.
The unsold backlog prolonged Raymond's life, but did not make it easier. Asthma kept him inside the house almost all of the time.
It seemed life couldn't get any more difficult until the day in July, 1988, when Carol Dunn, Raymond's mother, received a letter from Gerber. The firm said its MBF was all gone, leaving Raymond with less than a two years' supply.
Mrs. Dunn sought help in letters to political and business leaders, including President Bush, Donald Trump and the Princess of Wales. But Gerber seemed her only hope.
"I believed they wouldn't let me down because there's human beings in that corporation," she said. "I felt that, somehow, that Gerber would not let Raymond die."
Gerber employees who had been working with Mrs. Dunn told their bosses they could assemble the equipment and special ingredients (including beef hearts) to make a limited amount of MBF.