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Even brain tumor could not stop mother’s dedication to nourish baby

One year later, new mom recounts breastfeeding journey


Kelsey Danker, 24, sat in the living room of her Arvada apartment hugging her one-year-old son, Bodhi. It had been a long year.

After 30 hours of labor, Banker gave birth to her son on June 5, 2016. After meeting and breastfeeding her son for the first time, she suffered a seizure in her hospital room and soon learned she had a golf-ball sized tumor in the frontal lobe of her brain that would need to be removed as quickly as possible.

But despite the circumstances and the need for immediate surgery, Danker was committed to breastfeeding and providing her son with human milk throughout the process.

The new mom put off surgery for three weeks in order to breastfeed her son and pump in anticipation of her upcoming surgery.

“They told me that the surgery and trauma from that would affect my supply,” Danker said. “But I was determined to keep it up.”

As a first-time mom, Danker said it was important to her to breastfeed her baby not only for the nutritional benefits, but also for the bonding.

“It’s a special bond between mom and baby,” Danker said. “It helps with postpartum depression, which I still had that because of everything else, but I felt really close to my baby.”

Nutritionally, mothers milk can coat the gut in a way that formula can’t, especially in the first few weeks of life, said Abby Malman Case, international board certified lactation consultant.

“There are live properties in breast milk that aren’t in formula,” Malman Case said, adding that certain vitamins and hormones that are beneficial to the baby can’t be replicated in formula.

“Because the mom is responding to the environment, she is able to create the antibodies that are specific to her babies,” Malman Case said. “Formula can’t do that.”

Babies who are breastfed are reported to have a lower risk of asthma and allergies later in life. In addition, babies who receive breast milk exclusively for the first six months have fewer ear and respiratory infections, Malman Case said.

These are the the things Danker, who works as a bartender at the Arvada Tavern in Olde Town Arvada wanted for her son.

But the medications involved and the recovery time need after brain surgery would cause Danker not to be able to breast feed. The doctors were also concerned that the new mom may lose her milk supply once she was out of surgery.

“If the milk isn’t being removed, then the body gets the message that it doesn’t need to make as much,” Malman Case said.

To prevent this, Danker’s mom and step-mom helped her pump every three hours following the surgery.

“By pumping, she was keeping up supply for after recovery,” Malman Case said.

But what helped supplement Danker’s own milk supply in the thee days following surgery when her milk was not safe for the baby and the three weeks of recovery when she wasn’t producing enough milk, was a donation of human milk from Mothers' Milk Bank in Arvada.

Mothers' Milk Bank — a program of Rocky Mountain Children’s Health Foundation — is one of 30 nonprofit donor human milk banks in North America. The nonprofit screens, collects, processes, tests and provides donor human milk to babies across the country. Based in Arvada, the milk bank is the largest in North America distributing 740,000 ounces of milk in 2016. It is the only milk bank in Colorado and distributes breast milk to 140 hospitals around the country.

When Danker’s request for milk came, Laraine Lockhart Borman, director of outreach for Mother’s Milk Bank, delivered the donation herself to Presbyterian/St. Lukes Medical Center — where mom and baby were.

The milk bank provides milk to babies whose mothers cannot, but what made Danker’s situation different, Lockhard Borman said, was the seriousness and timing of her health condition.

“I talked to Kelsey briefly on the phone and there was something about her — we had this personal thing going on,” Lockhart Borman said. “She was so kind and it was real mom-to-mom talk. I knew that the milk bank needed to help her in any way we could.”

Danker said the donation was a “blessing.” Between the donation and the milk she produced herself, she as able to feed her son breast milk exclusively.

“It was my dream to breastfeed as long as I could exclusively,” she said. “So when I found out I wasn’t able to do that, it was heartbreaking. I can’t even put into words how grateful I was at the time and still am that Mothers' Milk Bank donated to me and Bodhi.”

Now, one year after brain surgery, Danker is still breastfeeding.

“It’s kind of like liquid gold,” she said, while laughing and sitting on the couch with her son.

Danker said she hopes her story will encourage moms to donate their excess milk.

“I feel like it’s really important for mothers to donate if they can,” Danker said. “I know a lot of moms who have extra milk who could easily donate if they knew they were able to.”

Mother’s Milk Bank opened in 1984 and has been using donated milk to help children throughout the country for the past 33 years.

“Any mother who may have extra milk, they can impact the life of a child by their personal donation,” Lockhart Borman said. “They can really make a big difference and save a baby’s life.”


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