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Volunteers: Our Everyday Heroes

In this season of holidays and thankfulness, we at the Oklahoma Mothers’ Milk Bank find ourselves thankful for many people, particularly our volunteers. With only two paid staff members and countless duties to perform, the daily operations of the OMMB would not be possible without the passionate hearts of our volunteers. While we have a small core group of volunteers who regularly give their time, we also depend on the help of one-time volunteers who come give us a hand as part of their school programs. Women and men who spend their time volunteering here at OMMB perform duties like pasteurizing milk, picking up milk from milk depots, delivering milk, organizing milk, and performing other administrative duties such as calling donor moms, faxing forms, and compiling donor charts.

To best capture the volunteering experience, we thought it would be most appropriate to catch up with our first-ever volunteer, Janette.
Janette is a retired NICU nurse of 20 years, and she also spent time working as a lactation consultant. When she retired, she knew that she wanted to spend her extra time serving the babies and parents that the Oklahoma Mothers’ Milk Bank serves. Janette says that she has enjoyed every minute of her service to the OMMB, and we have been happy to have her here for a year and a half.

Janette pouring milk during pasteurization

Janette pouring milk during pasteurization

Since the opening of the OMMB in 2013, Janette has volunteered at least every two weeks.  In the beginning, she says that helped with everything, including contacting donor moms and helping with paperwork. Now that we have so many ounces of milk coming into our freezers, the OMMB uses Janette’s skills to help with the process of milk pasteurization. Janette said that the process of pasteurization has been tweaked over time, so that now the process of thawing happens the night before pasteurization. Previously, the thawing used to happen the same morning as the pasteurizing. Janette admitted that it used to “sometimes make for a long day,” but that it was always worth it. “It [donor milk] saves lives, and I’ve seen it save lives. I was a NICU nurse for 20 years. We have come a long way in 20 years.”

One aspect of volunteering that Janette said she particularly enjoys is connecting with other volunteers at the milk bank. “Meeting people with the same interest and commitment to providing breast milk to babies has been great.” Other volunteers include donor mothers with extra time, stay-at-home moms, medical students and doctors from other parts of the world, nursing and dietetic students, nurses, retirees, and lactation consultants. “It’s just such a pleasant place to work. It’s so nice there. Sometimes people get together and just don’t click, but I have never experienced that here. Everybody just works together real well.”

Janette, on right, with Lesley (middle) and volunteer Amanda (left)

Janette, on right, with Lesley (middle) and volunteer Amanda (left)

When asked about her favorite experience as a volunteer, Janette was quick to respond. “One of the most rewarding parts is to see the moms come and bring their milk. Part of my job was teaching these moms when I was a lactation consultant.” She heaped praises upon donor moms, who spend their time and give their extra ounces to premature and sick, hospitalized babies in need. “I know what goes behind that donation and the dedication behind that donation.” Janette said her experience comes not only from the medical side, but also from a personal one. When her grandson was in the NICU for a week, she said it was immensely helpful for her family to know that the milk from donor mothers at OMMB was there if it was needed. She described it as “peace of mind” during a stressful time.

We here at the OMMB would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Janette, and to all of our volunteers. We are truly indebted to everyone willing to give of their time and their talents. Are you interested in volunteering for OMMB? We’re always in need of help! For questions or to sign up, contact Lesley at (405) 297-LOVE (5683), or shoot us an email at info@okmilkbank.org.

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Danna: Donor Number One

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When the Oklahoma Mothers’ Milk Bank opened in 2013, our first official donor was a special mama named Danna. At the time that Danna first reached out to us, she was a newly-bereaved mother. Her lovely son Sylas had passed away within an hour of birth, and now her milk had come in and she wasn’t sure what to do with it. “I didn’t want to just dump it down the drain,” she said. “But I wasn’t sure what to do with it.” Danna met with our clinical director Keri, after which she proceeded to pump three times a day for six weeks before gradually letting her supply run dry. Danna made the momentous decision to give all of her pumped ounces to the Oklahoma Mothers’ Milk Bank, in order to help fragile babies in Oklahoma NICUs.

Danna was born in south-central Kansas in a small town called Medicine Lodge. She attended college in Topeka and then moved to Kansas City straight after college. More recently, she has relocated to the Oklahoma City metro area, but she had first learned about milk banks when she lived in Kansas City. Danna and her husband Sean had daughter Rosalyn, who is now three, before giving birth to Sylas. Danna said that she and her husband learned partway through the pregnancy that Sylas’ life would be cut short by a devastating condition. His brief hour of life has impacted many others, however, and Danna’s continued love for her son is obvious. She admitted feeling frustration and despair when her milk came in, with quite unfortunate timing, as she and her family were en route to Sylas’ funeral three days after his passing. Danna confessed that she was surprised; she had reasoned that if she did not have a child that she was nursing, then her milk would simply not come in. Simply put, the healthcare system failed Danna by not preparing her for the breast milk that was going to come even though her child was no longer there to consume it. Confused, sad, and engorged, Danna began pumping the milk. Not long into this process, she said that she remembered hearing of milk banks before, and she began researching to see if Oklahoma City had one. Luckily, the OMMB had just opened. Danna stated, “I couldn’t do anything to help my son, so being able to help someone else with their child was healing for me.”

Rosalyn and Lyla

Rosalyn and Lyla

Since becoming Donor #1, Danna has also become a donor again–this time with baby daughter Lyla, born in late March 2014. The circumstances behind her donation are much happier this time around, though it is in remembrance of Sylas and others like him that motivates many other breastfeeding mothers to donate. Donation from grief is a common story among donor mothers, though their losses are not always as profound as Danna’s. OMMB and its volunteers salute bereaved mothers who make the huge sacrifice to pump, often around the clock, for the critically-ill babies that OMMB serves. Each pumping session is no doubt a very visceral reminder of those they have lost. For her part, Danna says that she is glad that she donated in memory of Sylas. Not only did her milk help other babies, she said, but she also reaped the health benefits that come with breastfeeding. When we asked Danna if there was anything she wishes that she could do to make things easier for bereaved mothers, she automatically responded that she wished her postpartum healthcare providers had prepared her for the fact that her milk was going to come in, and give her options about what she could do. The lack of information she received, she said, was astounding. In addition, Danna also sees the need for Oklahoma healthcare professionals, such as obstetricians, midwives, nurses, pediatricians, and lactation consultants, to become aware of the OMMB and what it does for the infants and parents that it serves. She remarked with surprise that her physician hadn’t even heard of the OMMB. Readers, you’ve learned it here: let’s use Danna’s experience to help make things better for other bereaved moms. Though we can often do little to help in such a devastating situation, let’s do the best we can. By helping to raise awareness of the milk bank to medical providers that see children, pregnant women, and postpartum mothers (including bereaved ones), we can help babies and their mothers, one by one. Many thanks to Danna for her contributions, to both the milk bank and this post.

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Pasteurization: A Process of Love

Breastfeeding and pumping mothers often refer to their milk as “liquid gold.” We have to admit that we agree! The milk that our hospitalized babies receive is life-sustaining nutrition, and the process that it goes through to become acceptable to feed to such fragile little ones is highly-complex. Have you ever wondered what happens to the carefully-pumped ounces that come to our freezers before they make their way to babies that need them? Read on for a breakdown of our pasteurization process!

Bags of frozen milk from donor moms fill up our happily-loaded freezers

Pasteurization begins with volunteers who are ready to spend their time helping others. Along with Clinical Assistant Lesley Cottrell, volunteers Janette and Amanda joined in on this particular week to make the magic happen! The process begins on a Thursday evening when milk from donor bags is thawed. We have a policy of always combining the milk of at least three donor moms so that we get a nice mix of different protein, fat, and calorie amounts. It’s important to remember that as a baby gets older, his or her mother begins producing milk that is higher in fat content generally, which is one way that nature ensures that a mother meets her baby’s biological needs. With different donor moms having different ages of babies, the fat, protein, and calorie amounts will likely not be consistent across the board. Once the milk is thawed in its bags, it is then combined and poured into large glass flasks and kept in the refrigerator overnight.

From left to right: Amanda, Lesley, and Janette

From left to right: Amanda, Lesley, and Janette

The highly-sensitive work of homogenization and bottling happens early on Friday mornings. Because an absolutely sterile environment is necessary, visitors and outsiders are not allowed into the rooms during the homogenization process. The staff and volunteers begin the process by homogenizing the milk while it is cold. This is done by lining up at least seven large glass flasks in a row, and then gently swirling the milk within, so as not to destroy cells. The milk is continually mixed as it is poured in small amounts from one flask into the next, and so on down the line. From there, the milk is carefully analyzed. Our special analyzer allows the staff and volunteers to know what the calorie content of the milk is, as well as protein, fat, and lactose contents. For our purposes, we are mostly interested in fat and calorie contents. It is important to know this difference because we bottle milk in 20-, 22-, and 24-calories-per-ounce amounts. The reason we do this is that hospitals will request different caloric amounts depending on the particular baby’s needs; some hospitals will also request milk with different protein amounts.

Homogenized milk

Homogenized milk

Lesley working the analyzer

Lesley showing off the analyzer

Next, the volunteers pour the homogenized milk from the analyzer into the bottles in which they will be delivered to the recipient babies. The bottling procedure occurs through a very sterile process because any growth or bacteria that is still lingering inside would become a huge problem. If any bacteria tampers with the sample, the entire batch has to be discarded. This would be a lot of wasted milk, though fortunately this is an extremely rare occurrence at OMMB. The bottling process is best done with three or four people, rather than a smaller number such as two, because it allows for a smoother process with less glove exchange (for instance, whoever caps the bottles is ONLY allowed to touch the caps and nothing else). With any less than three volunteers, the process takes a greater amount of time and puts the sterilization process at increased risk.

Pouring milk

Pouring milk

Once the milk is in bottles, it is placed into a specialized heater, where it is constantly monitored for temperature. The milk is heated to 62.5 degrees Celsius, and it needs to remain steady at 62.5 degrees for 30 minutes before it is then cooled back down. Once it gets cooled to the required temperature, it gets put into the freezer, where it waits in batches until hospitals request it.

The heater maintaining a steady temperature

The heater maintaining a steady temperature

The cool-down!

The cool-down

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Ready for the freezer, where it will wait for babies who need it

The prepared milk sits in batches in the refrigerator, just waiting to nourish precious babies!

The prepared milk sits in batches in the freezer, just waiting to nourish precious babies!

We love our volunteers! Their hard work and dedication make us continually thankful as we strive to provide the best service to Oklahoma’s smallest and most critically-ill babies and their deserving families. Questions? Feel free to call us at 405.297.LOVE.

 

 

 

 

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David

In May 2012, a little guy named David was born prematurely and was admitted to the NICU. Doctors said that he had an air pocket between his ribs and lung, a condition which would heal on its own but was, understandably, stressful to his mother Brandy nonetheless. In addition, Brandy had a difficult time after delivery.

David in the NICU

David in the NICU

During the two days that David ended up spending in the NICU, Brandy said that she wanted to be sure that David received only her colostrum or donated breast milk. Because David was hospitalized at OU Children’s, Brandy had access to a milk bank and was able to secure donated milk for David. She later wrote, “This donation allowed me to have peace of mind while I was recovering and ensured David got all the nutrients he needed.” Through Brandy’s determination, David did not have to receive formula or other unnecessary fluids, and she and David went on to nurse successfully! David’s condition healed itself, and they were able to discharge from the hospital with a story to tell. Although she described David’s recipient story as “short,” we here at OMMB never underestimate how long a day in the NICU can really last to parents. Many thanks to Brandy for sharing her story!

David at 13 months

David at 13 months

David Now

David Now

 

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Welcome!

Hello friends and readers! We’d like to welcome you to the blog of the new Oklahoma Mothers’ Milk Bank! We plan to update this blog regularly, and we intend for it to be a place of support, inspiration, and advocacy.

The Oklahoma Mothers’ Milk Bank (OMMB) is a hot-off-the-press organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of critically-ill hospitalized and premature babies through the nourishment of donated breast milk. One of the hardest aspects of the process, but also by far the very coolest, is that key word you just read: donated. The OMMB is on a mission to find breastfeeding mothers with an oversupply of milk who are willing to part with their liquid gold in order to help save the life of someone else’s child. Donating milk is simply the boss because the reward is without measure. Just so that we’re all clear about the importance of what we do, here are some living examples of who we serve.

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Charlotte in the hospital

Meet Charlotte. Baby Charlotte Rose suffered a traumatic brain injury at the age of 11 months and was airlifted to a pediatric trauma unit where she underwent emergency brain surgery to alleviate life-threatening swelling. Charlotte’s condition was determined by a CAT scan to be fatal, and her family was told by physicians to prepare for her passing; her family even met with the organ donor team leader to prepare for organ donation once Charlotte was taken out of her medically-induced coma. Fear not, however: the story of Charlotte’s hospitalization has a great ending! Charlotte began sucking on her breathing tube one morning, which prompted a close examination from a physician, who announced that Charlotte was indeed not brain-dead after all. From that moment forward, it became a quest of planning for Charlotte’s life and recovery rather than her passing. Her family decided immediately that, although Charlotte had previously been a formula-fed baby, her sustenance now would be donated pasteurized breast milk from a milk bank. Her family and the hospital made this happen via the Mothers Milk Bank at Austin, and Charlotte’s family is confident that the breast milk that Charlotte has consumed “is not just the best nutrition, it’s also the best medicine.” Here is Charlotte, pictured now at 14 months and home from the hospital. Charlotte’s full story can be read on her aunt Maria’s blog, linked here.

Charlotte at home, 14 months old

Charlotte at home, 14 months old

If that isn’t enough to warm your heart, allow us to introduce you to Slate.

Slate receiving donor milk from a bottle

Slate receiving donor milk from a bottle

Baby Slate in the NICU

Baby Slate in the NICU

Slate was born eight weeks premature with a serious birth defect in his abdomen. He wasn’t given much hope for survival. He withstood four months on a ventilator in the NICU with a failing liver, infections, and numerous surgeries. The Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas wrote, “Slate began receiving small feedings of donor human milk from the Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas. He gradually tolerated larger amounts of donor milk and was finally able come off his IV nutrition, which was affecting his liver. After four months in the hospital, Slate was able to go home for the first time. Slate continues to thrive on donor human milk and consistently continues to gain weight! Slate’s family strongly believes the donor human milk he received is the reason Slate survived and continues to thrive.”

This is Slate today!

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The beautiful faces of Charlotte and Slate represent what we at the OMMB are most passionate about: babies thriving against the odds that they are up against, and doing so in part because of the benefits that breast milk provides for them. If you’re a breastfeeding mother with an overabundant supply, we encourage you to donate your excess to babies that could truly benefit from it…or at the very least, keep reading this blog and give us the opportunity to convince you of it with upcoming posts! And, as always, we encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies because science has repeatedly shown that every ounce counts. Subscribe below, readers, and we’ll do our darnedest to not disappoint!

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