Debra's precious gift

5th December 2012 9:17 AM
Debra Rolfe (left) and Manager of Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital Milk Bank Helen McConaghy (right). Debra Rolfe (left) and Manager of Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital Milk Bank Helen McConaghy (right). contributed

CABOOLTURE mum Debra Rolfe has somehow managed to find a positive in a family tragedy.

The 30-year-old dental nurse managed to single handedly stock Queensland's first Milk Bank for premature babies.

The 43 litres of breastmilk Debra was able to provide was meant for her own son Bradley who was born in June at 27 weeks.

"I was able to provide my breastmilk virtually straight away to maximise his chances of survival," she said.

"At about 85 days everyone was expecting him to come home."

Sadly Bradley was unable to overcome chronic lung problems and in September, at 94 days old, he passed away.

"Eventually it came to the point where we knew his organs were shutting down."

On the same day of Bradley's passing, freezers for the Milk Bank had arrived at the Royal Brisbane Women's Hospital after five years in the works.

As Debra and her husband said goodbye to their son, hospital deputy director of neonatology Pieter Koorts approached the family about donating breastmilk.

"When we lost Bradley after three wonderful months with him in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, I wanted to help other mums of premmie bubs any way I could," Debra said.

"Many premmie mums I spoke to were having difficulty breastfeeding and were worried about not being able to provide their babies with breastmilk, as it is known to offer the best chances of pre-term survival."

By donating her own breastmilk and helping other families, Debra said Bradley's memory was able to live on.

"That's a real comfort," she said.

"They weren't expecting to get that much milk from one donor.

"Without the donations the milk bank cannot run and babies will die.

Debra encouraged other mums to consider donating their milk.

"The option is there just most people do not know about it yet," she said.



Why donate?

Of the 1600 premature and seriously ill babies cared for each year by the RBWH, about 600 of those have access to donor breastmilk.

About 8% of babies born in Australia are delivered before 37 weeks gestation annually, a rate which is on the increase.

The Milk Bank at the Royal Brisbane Women's Hospital is only the third in Australia and will cater for women across the state and northern NSW.