Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Meet "Miracle Baby" Victoria Grace Cogwin

The story of our miracle baby started early in 2014. My husband and I were living in Houston at the time. One day we got the news that my youngest daughter, Veronica, and her husband, Jack, were expecting their fifth child. The due date was late September. We were excited since Jack had just transferred from Columbus, OH, to Austin, and this child was going to be born a Texan —  yay! I wouldn’t have to fly to Ohio as I did for the births of my other four grandchildren. This time we would be making road trips between Houston and Austin.

It so happened that this baby decided to make her entrance into this world 15 weeks early via an emergency C-section. We were devastated with the news and started to pray for my daughter and the baby. We did not know what to do, but we knew we had to do something. So, I started to ask the Lord for guidance.

When we first met Victoria, she lay in her isolette in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of St. David’s Hospital downtown. It was hard not to cry, but I had to hide my emotions so as not to cause my daughter more pain. Victoria was so very tiny and full of tubes. She weighed 1 lb. 3 oz. and was 11” long. Once she was out of her isolette, I had to learn how to hold her and give her a bottle. My daughter could not nurse Victoria, as she did with her other four children, because she was on a medication not safe for nursing. Preemies and micro-preemies cannot digest formula well. Their intestines can be severely damaged and there are some cases that even lead to death, so Victoria was given human donor milk. Thanks to the Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin, Victoria is alive today. We cannot thank this organization enough, as well as the wonderful and skilled neonatologists and NICU nurses at St. David’s. After a 113-day NICU stay, Victoria was discharged from the hospital with oxygen.

In September, after selling our house in Houston, we moved to Austin, leaving behind our oldest daughter, her husband, our grandson, friends, and 35 years of wonderful memories. Our realtor found us a house in Avery Ranch just 1.2 miles from the Cogwins. The first couple of years were very hard, as we didn’t know if Victoria was going to have any complications or major delays. When she turned ten months old, she no longer needed oxygen, and one by one, our miracle baby was discharged from all specialists. This past June 13th, we celebrated her fourth birthday. Although she is tiny, she is perfectly fine, smart, and our pride and joy. We cannot love her more.

Our daughter Veronica is a stay-at-home mom and sits on the board of the Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin. Her husband, Jack, is a territory manager for Epicor, a software company. Their son John (11) likes soccer and flag football, and their daughter Cecilia (9) likes cooking, baking, and dancing. The two of them participate in the Travis County 4-H Food Show and Food Challenges. Also in the family are Ana Sofia (7) and Lucy (5), who both like soccer, singing, and dancing. Victoria loves anything her siblings do. The four older children are swimmers and are happy and proud to swim on the Avery Ranch Redfish Swim Team. Victoria is working hard to join her siblings on the team next summer. Except for Victoria, who will start pre-K this fall at St. Thomas More Preschool, all the Cogwin kids attend Holy Family Catholic School.

My husband and I are both from South America. Fernando was born in Colombia, and I was born in Bolivia. We met and got married in Bolivia. We have two daughters and six beautiful grandchildren. Prior to coming to the USA, we lived in La Paz and Bogota. We also resided in Chicago, New York City, and Houston. Austin is home for us now, and we love living in Avery Ranch. It is a fantastic community and has so much to offer. We are proud to call it home.

*This story originally appeared in an October 2018 edition of Avery Ranch Living. We've republished it here with their permission.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Mother's Day 2018

Being a mother is the best and hardest thing I have ever done.

I had a textbook perfect pregnancy until the beginning of my third trimester. I hadn’t even decorated the nursery, bought a crib, or had a baby shower, when I was hospitalized as a precaution for preeclampsia with my first baby at 29 weeks. As I started bedrest, doctors ran tests and wanted to keep me under observation and delay delivery as long as possible to give my baby every moment to grow in my womb. After a few days I became suddenly and violently ill, and my baby and I were in crisis as I became eclamptic and had a seizure. Blood tests showed my liver was shutting down. I had never heard of HELLP syndrome, a very serious pregnancy complication that can cause liver damage and cerebral hemorrhage, and can be fatal for mother and baby, but now I had it!

Shocked, my husband watched the frantic race as doctors wheeled me off for an emergency C-section. Minutes later, he walked down the hall to the NICU with our 3-pound son Ethan in an incubator. I was heartbroken when I awoke and couldn’t meet him or hold him, because I was not healthy enough to visit the NICU, yet we were so thankful he was stable and doing well for a preemie his age.
I had a second seizure the next day. Tests showed I’d had a brain hemorrhage, and I was sent to the adult intensive care unit (ICU). I suppose those mothering instincts were raging, because all I could think about was the need to provide breast milk for my baby. Some wonderful nurses brought a breast pump to my room and showed me how to use it, but my weak body wasn’t ready to produce more than a few drops at first, so little that we put it in a syringe. The hospital saved every precious drop and made sure it went into my son’s feeding tube.
No parent is prepared for the pain of seeing their tiny infant struggling to hang on to life, with wires and tubes everywhere. He was so small I was worried I would hurt him by holding him, and his diapers were smaller than my hand. The NICU was an amazing place, and we were so thankful to learn that our baby would receive supplemental donor human milk from Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin until my supply increased enough to meet his needs. Every day, nurses pulled out bottles of donor milk to fill his feeding tube, and I held him as he “drank.” This amazing gift, from mothers I would never meet, helped my son grow healthy and strong and build immunity when he was so fragile. Although I wished to be able to meet his needs myself, it gave me such peace of mind to know he was still getting the best “medicine” possible –- mother’s milk.

Ethan did grow healthy and strong, and he came home with us after 67 days in the NICU on his exact due date of December 26. He was the best Christmas present ever. I was able to meet his needs with breast milk by that time –- with a new level of respect for the effort donor moms go through to pump milk and bottle it, fill their freezers, ship it to the Milk Bank, and share with babies like mine.  I am happy to report that he’s thriving! He’s now 18 months old, funny, happy, strong, healthy and smart.

I volunteer at the Milk Bank now, bottling and labeling milk for other tiny babies. It is a blessing to be able to pay it forward for other families out there. To all those mothers who donate milk, THANK YOU. You are the reason babies like mine get to come home healthy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

From Donor Mom Diana

I really didn't know that donating milk was a thing until my niece was born nine weeks early. By a twist of fate, I was visiting my sister in Austin, when my niece came into the world. I live in Virginia and was pregnant myself, so it was almost like the stars had aligned for me to be there. Anyway, it was a scary situation because I felt pretty helpless; I wasn't really able to do anything for my sister and niece beyond just to visit and worry. At some point during this visit I learned of the importance of breast milk to preemies. I mean, I knew it was beneficial, but I didn't realize it was life saving. I nursed my son until he was 2.5 years old, and I had every intention of doing the same for my daughter. I decided to add donation into the mix.

I tried to find a local hospital to donate the milk, but if there is a place, I had a hard time locating information about it. I contacted the Milk Bank at Austin because I knew of them from my experiences just a few months before. After completing the application and some tests, I was officially a donor.

My time as a donor is about to end. My daughter turned one yesterday.  My milk will be accepted through one week after her first birthday, so I'm maintaining my pumping schedule through the29th of January. I am feeling very bittersweet about this. I'm excited to start backing off on the pumping, and I'll gain some time in my day. I am sad to give up the feeling of helpfulness that I get while I'm pumping. It's almost like I'm being retroactively useful. When I look at my freezer full of milk and think of helping tiny preemies, it makes me feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. 

So far, I have donated 1277 ounces (3 ounces shy of 10 gallons), and I estimate that my final shipment of milk will be at least 350 ounces. My initial goal was 750 ounces. I moved it to 1000 ounces and then 10 gallons, as I was able to give more. It makes me feel amazing to have exceeded my goals by so much. 

If I was able to help one baby, then all of the time and effort was worth it. If I have another child, I will donate again.
 - Donor Mom Diana

Monday, January 22, 2018

4 Children, 3 Donor Babies, & Lots of Life-saving

Donor Mom Ashley's story:

I began pumping with my first (now 8) in order to finish out the school year. I was blessed with an abundance of milk and as the summer approached, I looked for something to do with our deep freeze full of milk. I was grateful to hear about the Mother’s Milk Bank and happily donated our excess right as we learned we were pregnant with baby number 2, who is now almost 7 years old! Because pumping had gone so well for the first, I pumped every morning with baby number 2 as a way to have a little extra on hand and in order to specifically donate to the babies the Milk Bank serves. The second time around brought in over 1000oz and it was so nice to be donating and helping, especially when our finances were lean and I didn’t have a lot of other ways to help people.
Johnny (5), MacKenzie (8), Liam (5 months), and Keegan (almost 7)

Little did I know that this pumping experience was preparing me in big ways.

A short time later, we learned that baby number 3 was headed our way and that this baby would be blessing us in a number of ways, most uniquely coming to us with Down Syndrome. Kids with Down Syndrome often have weak oral tone and difficulty nursing. Our baby had a great latch, but would fall asleep immediately on the breast. While I was sad I couldn’t nurse him “from the tap”, I was so grateful for my history of pumping so that I could provide him with breast milk in the next best possible way. We exclusively pumped for 9 months and he had at least 10oz of breast milk for the last months of his first year. I don’t know if I would have been able to claim that victory without the experience and motivation from pumping for the Milk Bank before.

Now we are nursing baby number four and knew we wanted to pump milk for the babies who need that extra help. My plan was to pump specifically once a day, but our picky boy won’t take bottles while I work part time, so we have even more to donate! While frustrating for his dad when I’m gone, we know this milk will be put to good use for others! I’m so grateful for the chance to help out these babies and thankful for all the work the milk Bank does. We pray that these babies grow big and strong on all the milk provided.

 - Ashley

100 Words from Donor Mom Debralee

Just recently I was invited by a local college to participate in a project titled 100 Women, 100 Words. A project/exhibit designed to honor local women in the community who have contributed to or made an impact in the Rio Grande Valley. I soon was instructed to submit a 6x6 canvas with a painting, collage, or photograph of anything that interests me and 100 words to accompany.

This gave me the perfect opportunity to reminisce about my time as a Donor Mom:

I wanted a second child so badly (Samuel 1:27) I prayed endlessly.  I got the news we were pregnant during a regular scheduled check with my OB in December 2013.  Breastfeeding came hard with my first child. It wasn’t an easy task and soon enough the milk factory closed. The little I had saved in my freezer would soon be all gone and formula was soon introduced. I felt like a failure. But now I had a second chance. So I again took to prayer and prayed for an abundance of milk.

Caleb Samuel was born the morning of July 8, 2014. He was perfect and he nursed just perfectly. During a routine check-up while still in the hospital doctors discovered that Caleb was born with a bicuspid aortic valve with aortic stenosis. I was devastated and scared. I immediately took the blame…I prayed for him so badly…this was all my fault.  

I can now see and freely admit that during the first few months of his life I battled postpartum depression.  I had so much love to share, but so scared to love him because I didn't know if I could lose him. Lots of crying, lots of praying...asking for a miracle of healing. Little did I know that GOD already had a plan. His plan was bigger than I could ever see and understand.  I had become an over-producer of mother’s milk. My relationship with Caleb and the love I had for him was profound. Many days and nights of nursing and pumping allowed me to heal. 

GOD heard my cries, GOD allowed my heart to love more than I could ever imagine, GOD gave me comfort & peace, and GOD opened doors. We can't always see where the road leads, but GOD promises there's something better up ahead, we just have to trust him. 

I prayed for a child, he answered. I prayed for a miracle, he answered in an unbelievable way. I thought I was simply praying for my son, when all along it was the work of Jesus Christ through Caleb that led to a miracle of providing lifesaving mothers' milk to other babies. 

A simple post on Facebook lead me to Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin. I am blessed, humbled and honored to have been a Donor Mom.

Today, Caleb Samuel is a happy, spunky and full of life 3 year old. He loves dinosaur chicken, chocolate and anything Cars (Lightening McQueen, Mater, Dinoco…). He continues to see his pediatric cardiologist annually.

Debralee Rodriguez
Donor Mom, 2014/2015

Friday, January 19, 2018

From Donor Mom Ann...

I never planned to donate milk. I never planned to even pump. I just wanted to breastfeed my baby first and foremost, for as long as I could.
Of course, life often doesn’t go to plan. When my baby was born via C-section at 37 weeks, I was allowed to see her briefly before she was moved to the NICU. Although I knew it was highly likely she would go to the NICU because she had been diagnosed via ultrasound with a birth defect of the abdominal wall, I still held out that maybe, just maybe, I would get that “golden hour” after birth of holding and breastfeeding my baby.

Instead, I didn’t get to hold my baby until 12 hours after she was born, and despite the help of multiple lactation consultants in the hospital, my baby was too weak to nurse. Although 37 weeks is not considered “preemie,” the doctors described my baby as exhibiting features of a preemie. She would latch, pull back and scream in frustration, and become too tired to eat anything. It turned out she had hypotonia (low muscle tone) affecting her ability to nurse. As a result, I desperately started pumping and pumping, 8–10 times a day, to establish my supply so that I could at least feed her milk through a bottle.
Fortunately, I was given an oversupply for many months, and I began to freeze way more milk than my baby could consume. With no more space in my freezer, I began to wonder what to do with the milk. The idea of just throwing it away was horrifying, as pumping took so much effort. I was lucky that my baby was in the NICU and hospital for no more than 2 weeks, but I saw that many other babies and their families aren’t as lucky in that regard. It was so hard to leave my baby’s side every time I had to leave the NICU. I cried so much, wishing I could hold her and take her home with me. I also overheard NICU nurses talking about other mothers of the babies in the NICU who were unable to pump enough for their babies. After this experience, I knew that I should donate my extra milk so that other babies could get the nutrition they needed, and other parents could feel good knowing their babies were getting the health benefits of milk.
I’m very proud to have been a part of MMBA. I know many mothers are unable to produce enough milk to provide a solely breastfed diet, for a wide variety of reasons and especially when your baby is in the NICU and can’t nurse. Some women’s bodies just don’t respond well to the pump. I think if you are able to pump more than enough for your baby, it is an amazing opportunity to give the extra milk to preemies. It also makes the pain and difficulties of pumping even more worthwhile, and brings a sense of healing when recovering from the grief of “failing” to nurse the way you hoped.
Every ounce counts. Can we count you in? :-)
Become a life-saving milk donor today: https://www.milkbank.org/get-involved/milk-donation-form

Monday, December 4, 2017

Saving Lives in Deep Water

During the everyday hustle and bustle of life we often fail to recognize–outside of perhaps a few viral social media links or videos–the compassion and impact others have on our everyday world. However, in the aftermath of a natural disaster our awareness of acts of kindness change. Media coverage shifts from alarms of the impending disaster to stories of resilience, courage, persistence, and the overwhelming desire of many to do more for fellow humans.

Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast as a Category 4 storm on August 25, 2017, dumping 40 to 60 inches of rain before moving out of the area as a tropical storm. Damage estimates are in the billions, and 77 people lost their lives. Storms do not discriminate–families and hospitals and city infrastructures were all affected by this extraordinary act of nature.

“No one knows what to expect,” said Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin (MMBA) milk donor and mom, Angela Stripling. “At best you just lose power, at worst it’s your life or the life of someone you love–so you do everything you can, with the time given, to ensure things are taken care of before a storm hits.”

One of Angela’s top priorities was ensuring the breast milk she had pumped and frozen for donation was moved to a safe location. “Ten years ago a friend gave birth to triplets who ended up spending six months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I knew then that if I ever had the opportunity to become a milk donor and help other babies, I wouldn’t hesitate. So when we thought we might lose power, I loaded up my milk in a cooler and took it to my in-laws’ house so it would be safe for the babies who would need it most.”

Angela successfully saved all of her frozen milk – hundreds of ounces were kept safe from the storm.

Marlene Cantu, a nurse at Houston’s Memorial Hermann hospital, had submitted an application to become a milk donor before Hurricane Harvey, but she wasn’t as lucky as Angela. Marlene withdrew her application after a hurricane-caused power outage resulted in her losing all of her frozen milk.

“We’re safe, but my breastfeeding journey is over and I’m just sick that all of the milk I planned to donate is gone,” said Marlene. “As a Labor & Delivery nurse, I know how beneficial mother’s milk can be, especially for preterm babies and I wanted to do something to help them beyond being a nurse.”

Human milk is the best nourishment for all human babies, but it is life-saving for the more than 60,000 medically fragile babies born annually in the U.S. Some of these babies will have their needs met by their biological mothers, but many more will have to rely on donor human milk to be able to grow and thrive.

Houston’s large medical community utilizes nearly 28% of the donor human milk processed at MMBA each month, and Houston-area mothers provide nearly 26% of MMBA’s milk supply.

Emergency preparations for Hurricane Harvey include couriering donated milk from our milk depots to the milk bank before the storm, and encouraging all approved milk donors to drop off their milk at the depots where emergency generator power may keep it safer than at their homes. Emergency protocols also lead the milk bank to distribute more donor milk than usual to the hospitals in the storm’s path – a procedure taken in order to ensure that interrupted transportation of milk will not leave infants without milk.

Despite these protective protocols, MMBA faced some difficulties with supply and demand of donor human milk. Harvey stayed too long, causing many people to relocate to unflooded areas. They were cut off from their own stored supplies of milk, and from their babies in the NICUs. Some donors lost their milk supplies from the stress of the storm itself.

MMBA prepared for this loss of incoming milk donations by issuing a Call to Action – a plea for more healthy lactating women outside of the storm’s path to apply to become milk donors so that MMBA could continue to serve all infants with a medical need for milk. Within days, women from all over the country responded, and as a result, MMBA was able to successfully screen and approve a record 109 new milk donors in one month–and most importantly, all needs for donor human milk were met.

But securing a steady and safe supply of incoming milk donations was just one hurdle in the post-Harvey race.

As torrential rains brought Houston to a standstill, roadways leading to and throughout the city were shut down, making it impossible for mothers to reach their babies in the hospital, or for FedEx to deliver donor human milk to the hospitals and outpatients in the area. MMBA’s search for a way to deliver milk safely to the babies in need led to a local champion–
Special Operations Captain Steve Bush, a local paramedic, Lone Star Helicopter pilot, and father of 16-year-old twins who were born premature.

“I wasn’t personally familiar with the Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin, but everyone around me seemed to be. So when they needed help to deliver milk to the affected hospitals, I wanted to help,” said Steve Bush. “I’ve worked as a paramedic and flight medic for years, but flying from one hospital to the next delivering life-saving milk is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and let’s be honest, a unique way to help save a life.”

Steve generously agreed to offer his services as a helicopter pilot and deliver donor milk to Houston and Galveston area hospitals. He spent the day obtaining permission to use hospitals’ heliports, creating a flight plan, and then meeting the MMBA team to load up his helicopter with the donor human milk. He then spent most of the night flying from one hospital to the next delivering milk and helping save our state’s most fragile babies.

MMBA’s response to Hurricane Harvey required financial resources as well – never has a baby been denied milk because of lack of insurance, and screening new donors is costly. Caring individuals and organizations including Triumphant Love Lutheran Church’s Endowment Fund stepped up with substantial monetary donations. These gifts ensured that our operations could rise to meet the need.

Although the storm has officially passed, the need for support is far from over. Clean-up efforts continue full force in Houston and sources estimate it will take nearly two years to recover from the $180 billion worth of damage. But there is little to no doubt the city will recover, it’s just a matter of time.

MMBA, with your continued support, will meet the needs of Houston and surrounding towns affected by Harvey, and we’ll be ready for the next storm as well.

For more information about how you can get involved, visit https://www.milkbank.org/ today.