How Breast Milk Donation Saves Babies' Lives

How one premature baby overcame tremendous odds, thanks to a simple idea.


April 10, 2008— -- Born premature on Jan. 9, she came three months before her due date. Weighing in at 1 pound, 4 and two-thirds ounces, Isabella's hands were the size of a quarter and her head the size of a racquetball.

Doctors told her mother, Kim, that because Isabella was so weak, breast milk would increase her chances of survival. So Kim started to pump immediately, the baby's father said.

"Barely anything came out," Jerry Sciulli of Pittsburgh, Pa., said. "Barely anything. She would tap the bottle to get every drop out … she would say it's liquid gold."

Kim was determined -- pumping as often as possible.

"After Isabella was born, I saw all of her determination, making sure she pumped eight times a day," Sciulli said of his wife. "Sometimes I would say 'seven times is good, you're not gonna lose your milk tomorrow.' [Kim] said, no, it has to be eight … it didn't matter what time. She had to get eight pumps in."

And as Isabella started to grow, Kim was thrilled. But days later, she unexpectedly collapsed and died. Doctors still don't know why.

"It shouldn't have happened that way," Sciulli said between tears. "She was 35, and she was a young 35. People were shocked. I was shocked."

Baby Isabella was still in intensive care and about to run out of breast milk. Formula was an option, but it didn't have the antibodies to protect against illness. Most important, Kim's friends knew it wasn't what she wanted. So friends contacted the International Breast Milk Project, a group of mothers who donate their breast milk to orphans in Africa.

The project then connected the Sciullis with another organization that was able to provide milk for Isabella.

Click Here: Learn More About the International Breast Milk Project.

"To imagine what this father must be feeling and to know that you can help in this situation, I think that any new mom would be in awe at the opportunity," said Frederique Daniel, who is one of the mothers involved in the project.

Jill Youse at the International Breast Milk Project, said "the last thing you want to do is throw breast milk down the drain. It's heartbreaking. You know how much work it took to get this milk … and you know the inherent value of how breast milk could help other babies."

Youse points out that there's no shortage of moms who want to help babies who need breast milk. Indeed, the project's next shipment of 55,000 ounces of U.S. donor breast milk is scheduled to depart from Monrovia, Calif., to Durban, South Africa in early October.

"It's unbelievable, the number of moms who just Google 'donate breast milk' or something," she said. "There aren't a lot of public campaigns, but moms have found out about opportunities to donate."

Today, all of Isabella's milk comes from donating mothers. And she's thriving.

"Knowing that this milk came from people across the country; I wish it were her mother's but that's the next best option," the baby's father said.

He says he feels humbled that people are producing milk for her -- something he can't do to nourish his baby but other mothers can.

Susie Banikarim and Jung Hwa Song contributed to this report.

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