AUSTIN (KXAN) - Inside the Mothers' Milk Bank , processing coordinator Katrina Hunt spends her days patiently swirling large flasks of human milk and pouring the life-giving liquid into tiny bottles. Each of those bottles will feed a premature baby nine meals. The stuff clearly goes a long way.
Unfortunately, not long enough.
"The pre-term birth rate has not diminished in the last five years," said Milk Bank executive director Kim Updegrove, "and in fact has wiggled a little bit upward."
In fact, Updegrove said, 12 percent of all births in this country are premature. The bank has been keeping up, barely. Three hundred and forty donors sent milk to the facility last year. That number is now up to 400, but Updegrove said the bank will need 200 more next year. And even then, she estimates, only 20 percent of premature infants who need donated human milk will get it.
One baby who did get it is 2-year-old Ike Roy. His mother, Kari Ann Roy , was hospitalized weeks before she was due, after her water broke prematurely.
"Several times, we had the whole Caesarean team in and we were getting all prepared, and then my doctor would say, 'Let's just wait,'" Roy said.
Those efforts delayed the birth but still, Ike was born three months prematurely.
"We were told that even if he made it, which probably wouldn't happen, that his lungs could be not developed at all; that he could be born basically with, you know, not being able to breathe at all," said the mother. "So when he cried, we were very, very excited because, holy cow, this kid has lungs."
Ike flourished and his mother produced so much milk, she decided to become a milk bank donor, never dreaming that when her son was only 5 1/2 months-old, she would need the bank in the worst way.
"He caught a cold," Roy said, "and we took him to the ER because he seemed kind of listless. And while we were at the hospital, he completely stopped breathing; his airway just closed off."
The whole family was devastated.
"Isaac was in the ICU and I was trying to pump and all of a sudden, all of that milk that I had been producing was gone!" Roy said. "Like they tell you that stress will dry up your milk and, you know, I had never really believed that, but holy cow, I mean, it was gone!"
It was about to get worse. A reflux condition caused Ike to leak formula into his lungs, causing them severe damage. Doctors called in the Mothers' Milk Bank in Austin.
"Human milk, if it's aspirated, it doesn't cause as many problems as something like formula would, and also it's very quickly digested and easily tolerated," said Roy. "So it was exactly what he needed. I believe that human milk saved his life."
There are only 10 milk banks operating on the North American continent. Nine of them are in the United States. The Austin bank serves people throughout the South. It needs a lot of milk.
Last year, it sent 260,000 ounces to 43 hospitals and another 54 outpatients, a total of some 1,200 recipients. All of the banks together supplied infants with 1.7 million ounces of breast milk.
Updegrove wants more, much more.
"The message to moms," she said, "is that if you're a healthy lactating mom, you should consider donating milk to the milk bank. We'll work you through the process to develop an oversupply of milk temporarily, only in the first year of your baby's life. You can donate to the milk band and save a pre-term infant's life. You can ensure that a pre-term infant has an opportunity to learn to walk and talk and attend school someday and be a contributing member of society. That's really what donating moms do; they become the caretakers of the next generation."
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