ShareThis Page

Strip District facility's 'life-saving' breast milk collections crucial

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, 11:26 p.m.
Drs. Beverly Brozanski and Melissa Riley, members of the Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank advisory board, process breast milk donated to the Strip District facility. Both physicians work at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Drs. Beverly Brozanski and Melissa Riley, members of the Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank advisory board, process breast milk donated to the Strip District facility. Both physicians work at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
Laboratory manager Cyndy Verardi warms up two pasteurizers in order to process milk at Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank in the Strip District, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2105.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Laboratory manager Cyndy Verardi warms up two pasteurizers in order to process milk at Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank in the Strip District, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2105.
Denise O'Connor talks about the importance of donating to Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank in the Strip District, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Denise O'Connor talks about the importance of donating to Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank in the Strip District, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015.
Laboratory manager Cyndy Verardi talks about the first group of donations of milk being processed at Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank in the Strip District, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2105.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Laboratory manager Cyndy Verardi talks about the first group of donations of milk being processed at Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank in the Strip District, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2105.

Katie Bentz's body was producing breast milk on overdrive — for good reason.

After her son David's birth, nurses advised her to pump more milk to help treat his jaundice. David got better. Bentz began producing milk in large quantities.

“My body felt like it needed to make enough milk for an army of children,” she said. “It was overproduction, for sure.”

Instead of wasting it, Bentz, of Ross, did an online search for milk donation options. Up popped the words of the recently-opened Three Rivers Mothers' Milk Bank on Penn Avenue in the Strip District.

After undergoing an interview and medical screening process, Bentz, 34, dropped off her first donation in November — about 1,400 ounces of milk.

“I figured it's going to benefit the little babies, and I can put the inconvenience of pumping aside,” she said. “It's become part of my routine.”

This month, the milk bank is expected to deliver its first batch of donor human milk to neonatal intensive care units in hospitals across Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The nonprofit organization in December received accreditation to process and distribute milk by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

“It's so exciting to be able to supply milk to little babies,” said Cyndy Verardi, the milk bank's laboratory manager. “And it's such a cool thing to be a part of. There's such a large need out there for the little preemies out there. My job is to make sure that the milk we collect is safe and wholesome for them.”

In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended babies weighing 3.3 pounds or less receive human milk. Breast milk protects preterm infants against diseases such as necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, an intestinal disease that can be fatal. Human milk can decrease the risk of NEC by 80 percent.

That's why Denise O'Connor, the milk bank's founder and executive director, hopes to collect and process at least 250,000 ounces of donated breast milk annually. The building is equipped with two custom-built pasteurizer machines, a bottling laboratory, freezers and a classroom.

“Breast milk is life-saving,” said Danielle Gorman, the milk bank's screening nurse in charge of intake. “It's amazingly important, and we are so lucky that we're here doing what we are doing. Denise worked so hard to make this dream a reality.”

During a recent tour of the building, O'Connor showed off three large freezers full of donated breast milk and a memorial wall mural of painted flowers to commemorate the babies of bereaved mother donors whose children died after birth. The milk bank named the memorial wall after their first donor mother and her baby, Ashton, who recently died. The family has not gone public with their story.

O'Connor projected after talks with other milk banks across the country that 5 percent to 10 percent of donated milk will come from bereaved mothers.

“So far, the milk bank has raised more than $740,000 in grants from the area's foundation and corporate community, along with individual donors. More than 140 women have committed to donating breast milk, and the organization is averaging about 12 to 15 inquiries a week.

“That's a pretty big start considering the fact that we just opened,” said O'Connor, a lactation consultant. “We'll try to grow as quick and fast as our hospitals need us to.”

She said she eventually hopes for 100 milk donors a month.

“It's phenomenal to have this resource in Pittsburgh where there are so many baby hospitals,” Bentz said. “I'm really proud to contribute.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.