April 9, 2020 was a devastating day for Alexandria Nelson and her family. At 7 ½ months old, they lost their son, Theodore, who was born with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. This condition meant Theodore spent all of his days and nights in a hospital, surrounded by his loving family. Full of sadness and so many emotions, the family was compelled to honor him in a way that helps others.
One day, Alexandria walked into Mount St. Mary’s Hospital and headed to the Center for Women on the 2nd floor. With her, she brought her breast milk, which will help improve the health and survival of vulnerable premature babies and other infants throughout New York State through The New York Milk Bank.
She has donated a grand total of 1,248 ounces of breast milk, and sees her gift as a special, unique part of her healing journey. “Everyone goes through hard times, and my sole focus nowadays has been giving back,” said Alexandria. “Doing this makes an impact in Theodore’s name.”
Honoring Theodore By Helping Others
Mount St. Mary’s Hospital is Niagara County’s first and only Milk Bank location. Mothers regularly donate their excess breast milk, however, a donation following the loss of a baby is an especially delicate time. “Bereavement is a process, and grieving the loss of an infant carries with it some special circumstances,” explained Gina Penque, Mount St. Mary’s Lactation Consultant. “Donating breastmilk can be a helpful part of a mother and family’s healing journey, and Alexandria is a perfect example of taking the hardest situation in her life and turning it into something beautiful that helps other babies thrive.”
The New York State Milk Bank makes this bittersweet gift to other babies a reality. “Research shows that human milk provides the best nutrition for babies and also protects them from life-threatening infections, especially those who are premature or critically ill,” said Maryann Cogdill, Director of Maternity Services at Mount St. Mary’s. “By participating in the Milk Bank program, we are helping mothers who wish to contribute as well as receive donor breast milk.”
Resources Available in WNY
The program is licensed by the New York State Department of Health to accept and distribute pre-screened donor breast milk. There are 23 depot centers across the state with other sites in development. For more information on donating to the Catholic Health Milk Bank Depots please contact:
- Mercy Hospital of Buffalo – Tammy Kowalik, RN, IBCLC, (716) 828-2616 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mount St. Mary’s Hospital – Gina Penque, IBCLC, (716) 298-2478 or email@example.com
- Sisters of Charity Hospital – Tina Harman, RN, IBCLC, (716) 862-1939 or firstname.lastname@example.org
There are also resources for parents experiencing a loss. Please contact: Western New York Perinatal Bereavement Network at (716) 626-6363 or wnypbn.org.