Thursday, April 28, 2016

Intern Spotlight: Learning About Milk Donor Characteristics

Sarah Marsh, University of Texas intern

I came to the Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin as a student intern and the mother of a then 10-month-old boy. Although I had known about the existence and importance of human milk banks in my professional life (I’m a nurse and a midwife), it wasn’t until I started breastfeeding my own baby (and experienced the triumphs, and the challenges) that I became more curious about milk donation and learning more about how human milk banks work. Although milk donation wasn’t an option for me, I met many new mothers in my community who became donors, and was inspired to learn more.

The focus of my work at MMBA has been on learning more about the personal characteristics and factors that motivate milk donors. I knew very little about MMBA and its wide network of donors and supporters before I started my internship and have learned so much. In 2014 and 2015, 1723 milk donors from all over the country (29 states and DC) donated their milk to MMBA to help support preterm and medically fragile infants. The median total milk volume donated by donors during this period was more than 500 ounces! As a pumping mom this amazes me!

It was also interesting to learn about how milk donors hear about MMBA. Milk donation is not yet as widely known as blood donation (MMBA is working on changing this!), so understanding how lactating women learn about milk donation is really important to sustaining and growing human milk banks and ensuring that vulnerable infants has access to donor human milk. I found that donors learn about human milk banking in many ways including healthcare providers, friends and word of mouth, lactation consultants, social media. There are champions of human milk bank working in hospitals, breastfeeding centers, and communities all over the country who are educating lactating women about the option of milk donation. In Austin, many donors say they learned about MMBA from driving past the building sign and local billboards.

My time at MMBA has demonstrated that a small group of committed staff, amazing volunteers and generous donors can change lives. The team at MMBA works tirelessly to support the normalcy of breastfeeding in our community and make milk donation as easy for the donors as possible, while processing the milk safely and in accordance with national standards. Together this group of amazing individuals (donors, MMBA staff, volunteers, and supporters) is helping preterm and medically fragile infants thrive!

-Sarah Marsh

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pumping for Preemies: Mrs. United States' Story

Katie Garza, an MMBA milk donor, ambassador, and Mrs. United States 2015, shares her very moving story and explains why she is dedicating her year to promoting milk banking and fundraising for the Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin's Charitable Care Program.

As Mothers, our natural instinct is to nurture and protect all babies, not just our own. Every donor Mom has an incredible story behind what motivates her to donate, because let me tell you, pumping around the clock is no walk in the park. This is my story:

At 30 weeks pregnant with my first child, I awoke in screaming pain. I was told that it was labor, and thankfully the doctors were able to stop the contractions. After three weeks of bed rest and constant labor, Phoenix Madilyn would wait no more.  Delivery was the scariest moment of my life. We had no idea what to expect or whether our girl would make it. She was born crying, and for a moment I cried tears of joy. Within minutes the crying stopped, and the doctors spoke in hushed voices while my tears of joy turned to heartbreak. She wasn't breathing on her own.

Within her first hours of life my teeny baby went from the comfort and security of the womb to being intubated and life flighted to Texas Children's level 3 NICU.  I couldn't touch her. I couldn't hold her. And like most NICU Moms, I couldn't provide her with the milk she needed despite every effort.

During the hours spent in the NICU, we got to know the nurses and fell in love with her baby buddies. We were filled with joy at the successes, and heartbreak when things went wrong. Phoenix was 4lbs 4oz - huge compared to the rest of the babies in her pod. Some babies had Mommy with them around the clock, while other babies were alone. Having an infant in the NICU can cause post-traumatic stress and there are many things to be said on this topic, but I will save that for another story.

Breast milk is the single most powerful medicine a medically fragile infant can receive. Not only is it superior nutrition, it also has healing power. Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is the leading cause of death in preterm infants, and can be preventable with breast milk. If the Mother’s milk is not available, human donor breast milk is the next best thing. I wish I had known of this option. Maybe if Phoenix and the other babies received donor milk they would have been more comfortable, grew stronger, and came home sooner.

During our time in the NICU, I desperately needed to help my baby and the babies around her. There was nothing that I could do at that time, but now there is. Phoenix is now a healthy six year old with a brand new baby sister, Aubrey.  I started pumping as soon as Aubrey was born with a goal to strengthen my supply and donate to NICU babies. These babies can only receive breast milk from a milk bank, so I chose to donate to my local non-profit HMBANA milk bank, the Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin.

More importantly, I want to make sure that the families whose babies have a medical need to receive my donor milk never have to pay for it if they cannot afford it. So I fundraise to ensure that every baby receives breast milk at no cost to them, regardless of their insurance coverage through Charitable Care.

I also want to make sure that Moms KNOW about donor breast milk, because so many simply aren't aware (like myself).  We are now working on an outreach and education program to touch every NICU Mom nationwide.

The taller my soap box, the farther our voices can be heard! As Mrs. United States my soap box is huge, and is opening doors to help get the message out for our preemies. The goal is to get more milk to more babies, and I am out there pounding the pavement, crown in hand (with pump breaks every 3 hours:). 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Spotlight on our Junior League of Austin Volunteers

We celebrated National Volunteer Week earlier this month, honoring the many volunteers who truly make a world of a difference in the health and lives of preterm and ill infants. One group of volunteers we recognized is our amazing Junior League of Austin (JLA) team. Over the past 15 years, the Milk Bank has been fortunate to be a Community Project of JLA and has benefited tremendously from the dedicated women who select us as their nonprofit of choice to fulfill their volunteer hours. Next month we will say goodbye to our incredible 2014-­2015 team, and we’ve just learned that we will welcome a new team for 2015-2016 – thank you Junior Leaguers! In addition to providing the woman power necessary to help us meet our mission, this amazing organization has supported our Charitable Care Program (CCP) since 1999. The CCP is a philanthropically supported program that allows the Milk Bank to provide donor milk to every baby with a medical need – regardless of insurance coverage or families’ financial resources. The Junior League of Austin has literally helped us to same thousands of lives over the years!

In honor of National Volunteer Week and this year’s JLA participants, we want to spotlight the experiences of a couple of our volunteers as they reflect on their time spent with the Milk Bank.

Meet Bethany! I joined the Junior League of Austin in the summer of 2013, right around the same time my daughter, Zoryana ("Zory") was born. I was eager to stay involved in the community, and have the opportunity to connect with other working moms also looking to stay active with their community involvement. As a new mom, I had hoped to become a milk donor for the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin - I had periodically heard about the organization and the incredible ways in which they are able to help fragile babies with the milk donated by breastfeeding moms. Unfortunately, I barely produced enough breast milk for my little one, let alone enough to donate to the Milk Bank. Fast forward a year when it was time to choose my community placement with the League. I sorted through a massive list of organizations supported by the Junior League, and to my surprise, found the Mothers’ Milk Bank listed with the opportunity to help process milk in the lab. I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me to give back to the Milk Bank in a different way than I had originally hoped. 

This past year, I've been able to pick up milk from drop off locations around town and bring it to the Milk Bank; I've logged frozen mother's breast milk that's been shipped to the Milk Bank from around the country to prepare it for milk processing; I've worked on the front lines with the pour team, mixing and pouring milk for pasteurization. While I wasn't able to donate my breast milk, I was able to contribute my time to help improve the health and lives of preterm and ill infants. I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity this past year and to work closely with the incredible staff who bring their passion for helping fragile babies to work every day. 

Meet Doran! At the Mother's Milk Bank of Austin, every day feels like volunteer appreciation day.  From my first week, the staff made me feel so welcome.  As a volunteer, I was able to immediately start helping with events that promote the milk bank, breastfeeding and the importance of donating breast milk.  Hearing stories of mothers whose premature babies were the recipients of donated breast milk catapulted my interest in how the breast milk is processed.  I loved taking an active part in the thawing and pouring of the breast milk into flasks to later be pasteurized.  I also took on a more behind the scenes role by participating in statistical analysis of the nutritional content of the milk.  I was amazed to learn that the executive director of the Milk Bank looks at every mother’s milk donation’s nutritional content to make sure that each NICU baby receives just the right amount of fat and calories in their milk. 

Just like every ounce of milk donated counts to make a difference in the lives of babies born too soon, every minute of volunteering makes a difference at the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin.  I hope the readers decide to one day donate their extra milk, donate financially or donate their time to this wonderful organization. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Felo’s Story

As a twin born at 26 weeks, 3 days, weighing just 1lb, 15oz, and facing several severe medical complications, milk recipient baby Rafael “Felo” received 5,514 ounces donor human milk from April until November, 2014. His parents express how grateful they are for generous milk donors who provided lifesaving milk to their son when he had to spend 3.5 months in the NICU after developing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially fatal intestinal disorder.

On August 15, 2013, our twins came into this world at only 26 weeks and 3 days.  Camila “Mila” Jane and Rafael “Felo” Joseph both weighed in at 1 lb 15 oz.   After a few hours in recovery, I wanted to start pumping.  My nurse helped me hand express the first few days until my supply was established enough for pumping.  I knew that breast milk was very important especially for preterm infants.

The babies were doing well considering their early arrival.  But on September 1, 2013, Felo’s small intestine was found to be perforated – it had a hole it in.  He was gravely ill and wasn’t supposed to make it; as just one sign of his stress, his heart rate was well over 250 bpm.  But, after 24 hours, he stabilized and began his recovery.

After two-weeks of not being able to be fed, the team felt Felo was ready to give it a try.  The feeding didn’t go well, and Felo showed signs of a problem; he was moved to an operating room for exploratory surgery, and on September 17, 2013, my sweet boy had nearly 20% of his small intestine removed.  The bowel that remained was not exactly healthy, but the surgeon felt that it could heal with antibiotics. That was yet another sleepless night, as he was very unstable; but, he was born a fighter, and managed to recover again.

We brought the babies home mid-November (one day before my due date).  After a week at home with both babies exclusively on breast milk, I noticed Felo wasn’t growing and he was having increasing difficulty with his feedings.  Felo, unfortunately, was admitted back to the NICU for further observations.  At that point the team thought it was best to try feeding a breast milk substitute, an elemental formula made for babies with feeding issues.  He was doing well for about a week until we got the dreaded news that he had Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC), which is the leading cause of death in preterm infants.  We were devastated.  His bowels were sick, and he was at risk of another perforation and surgery was considered.

At that point, the team decided that it was in Felo’s best interest that we transfer to another NICU for more specialized care.  

We packed up our family, my frozen breast milk, and headed to Houston.  What was supposed to be a 4-week stay turned into 3.5 months.  My frozen stash dwindled and we had to turn to donor milk during our NICU stay. I continued to breastfeed Felo’s twin sister, but I didn’t have enough milk for both of them.

After the hospital made several attempts to transition Felo to formulas, it became apparent that he could only tolerate breast milk.  So on March 17, 2013, we were discharged from the NICU with a central line for a nutritional supplement called Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN), and a prescription for donor human milk.

Felo has been on donor human milk from the milk bank ever since.  This has allowed his gut to continue healing, and his body and brain to grow, while I was able to continue breastfeeding his sister.  We are all forever grateful to the donors and the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin.  Pumping is a true labor of love and your love has saved my son’s life.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Never Too Young to Give Back

Dianne Russo, former milk donor and current MMBA ambassador, shares her story about why she chose to donate with her son, Ben, and how becoming a milk donor has enabled her to begin teaching him the importance of giving back at a young age

When I was a high school teacher I loved the feeling of being needed by my students. But after my son was born I became a stay-at-home mom and, suddenly, I was only needed by him. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the best job in the world to care for my child, but I missed the feeling of being needed by people outside of my home. That’s when I came across the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Austin. The idea that my breast milk could literally save the lives of premature and sick infants was the ultimate reward. And all I had to do was pump a little extra milk each day while my little one was sleeping! Every time I dropped my donations off at the milk bank I would picture little babies drinking my milk and instantly growing bigger and stronger. I’d thank my son for sharing his precious milk so that other babies could live a healthy life just like him. I know that someday he’ll understand.

The day my son was born was, of course, the best day of my life. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was also the scariest. I suddenly felt this tremendous responsibility, not only to take care of this amazing little creature, but also to guide him and teach him well. One of the things I wanted to teach him was the importance of giving to others in need, and in order to do that, I had to make sure I would always lead by example. Now that we are no longer donating milk, Ben and I are finding other ways to do some good. We are working with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training organization to launch a new Moms in Training program in Austin so that moms can get into shape with their little ones in tow and raise money to fight blood cancer. We also continue to volunteer with the milk bank to help get the word out about their incredible work.

People often think that volunteering your time and resources to help others is a selfless act. I disagree. People help others not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it makes them feel good. It’s actually quite selfish, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I hope that my son will grow up to be even more selfish than I am. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Paying It Forward Through the Generations by Jana Sharpe-Sanders

Jana Sharpe-Sanders has known about the milk bank since she was a young girl. Her father, one of the milk bank’s founders, was a beloved visionary and outstanding neonatologist in Austin. His early death, and that of his wife Diana, was a huge loss to the milk bank and the medical community.  Read Jana’s tribute to her father, the milk bank, and to paying it forward!

The Mothers' Milk Bank of Austin has been a part of my family since day one of its existence. My father, Dr. George Sharpe, Neonatologist and Director of the NICU, was the co-founder of the MMBA with Dr. Sonny Rivera back in 1998.

Dr. George Sharpe
He knew when it first started that it was going to be one of his crowning achievements in life. He believed in breastfeeding so much that when I had my first daughter, Kira, in 2004 and was having problems getting her to latch on, he sent over Lactation Specialist Barbara Wilson-Clay to my apartment as a welcome home gift! Well, she worked miracles and latching was finally a success!

I breastfeed my daughter for 18 wonderful months, but unfortunately was unable to donate to the MMBA due to a lack of excess milk. When my daughter was only 4 months old, my own mother passed away after a long battle with cancer and a short time after that, my milk dried out on one side of my body despite my desperate attempts to keep it going. I only had one side to feed my child from and there was no way that I was going to be able to donate to the MMBA. It was definitely my goal to be able to donate and I definitely felt it was my duty to donate, too. Being the daughter of Dr. George Sharpe, definitely had it's pressures in the breastfeeding world, but he always told me not to worry and if it didn't happen with this child, things could be different future pregnancies. Well, my dad passed away from cancer just 18 months after my mom and he never got to meet my second born daughter, Keelin. It was through my second pregnancy that I became even more determined to be a breastfeeding queen and donor mom on my own. My wish came true and my dad was correct, I had no issues breastfeeding and I had extra milk to spare for the MMBA! I was officially a donor mom! Yeah!!! I knew my dad would have been proud of my efforts regardless of being able to donate, but it definitely felt great to drop off that big pot of “Liquid Gold”, as my dad used to call it, to the MMBA for the first time! Now that my youngest has just entered Kindergarten, I know it is time for me to donate more of my time, money and efforts to helping my father's passion for the milk bank thrive onwards! 
Jana and her husband, Brett Sanders