RIVERDALE — Compelled to find something good in the wake of her infant son's death, Nicura Thompson looked for a way to help other fragile babies.
The 28-year-old Riverdale resident had a huge collection of breast milk stored at the hospital and she didn't want it to go to waste, so she has been donating it to other babies in need.
So far, she has donated 3,500 ounces. Her goal is to donate 5,000 ounces. Her milk is dropped off at McKay-Dee Hospital, sent to Mountain West Mothers' Milk Bank in Colorado for processing and returned for Utah babies.
“I knew that the milk could be used for other babies who were so fragile and had very sensitive stomachs,” Thompson said. “People keep telling me how strong I am for being able to do this for other babies since this milk was supposed to be for my baby. But in reality, I am not strong. We lost our sweet baby, and if I can help some other sick babies, then I will. It helps me to know that some good is coming out of our terrible tragedy.”
During her five-month ultrasound, doctors discovered a problem with the baby's heart. Two months later, an amniocentesis test, which can detect abnormalities, found that the baby had 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, also known as DiGeorge syndrome. The syndrome is caused by a defect in chromosome 22 and can cause problems with the heart, immune system, blood calcium levels, delayed development and emotional problems.
“This is the second most common syndrome next to Down syndrome and it can affect over 180 systems in the body,” Thompson said. “Unfortunately, our son was given the worst possible heart defects, seven of them to be exact. Because of one of the heart defects that he had, pulmonary atresia, this made him noneligible for a heart transplant.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes pulmonary atresia as a congenital form of heart disease in which the pulmonary valve doesn't form properly.
Colton Thompson was born on Oct. 21, 2016, at the University of Utah Hospital. He was scheduled to have an operation to repair his heart when he reached the age of 6 months by one of two doctors in the world who perform the procedure he needed. Unfortunately, that day never came.
Colton died at the age of 6 weeks, on Dec. 2, which is also Thompson's 28th birthday.
“Just after a few days of being home, we had trouble keeping his oxygen up. He was hospitalized for three days to figure out why,” Thompson said. “He was aspirating milk and had to have an NG (nasogastric) tube put in his nose. He was sent home on a little bit of oxygen.”
A few days before Colton passed away, the family knew he wasn't going to make it. Thompson said the doctors at Primary Children's Medical Center tried everything. “I had a huge collection of milk at the hospital and I knew I didn't want it to go to waste,” she said. “I took it upon myself to look up the closest milk bank to figure out how to get started.”
Elon Jensen, manager of the LiVe Well center and car seat safety program at McKay-Dee Hospital, said breast milk is a precious commodity, so the hospital has made the process as simple and convenient as possible for women to donate.
In order to donate, mothers must go through a telephone interview and fill out an online questionnaire. Then their blood is tested to check for any diseases. They also must refrain from alcohol and tobacco and eat a healthy diet while they donate their milk.
“After the first initial visit, they don't have to come inside the hospital again,” Jensen said. “We meet them at the curb and collect the milk and prepare to send it off for processing. The milk is frozen at all times.”
Jensen said she had seen Thompson dropping her milk off at the hospital, but hadn't spoken to her until her third trip.
“We didn't even know her story at that point, and when I approached her to thank her and to let her know how lifesaving her donation was, she told me she had lost her son and that was why she was donating her milk,” Jensen said. “It's beautiful to me that she is taking something so painful and devastating and turning it into a beautiful tribute to her son. That takes a special mindset and I am so impressed with her.”
Thompson said losing her son has been a humbling experience that has changed her life forever.
“We were blessed to have Colton home for Halloween. He got to go trick-or-treating with his brothers and we also went on family walks,” she said. “There are a few things that keep me going. My wonderful husband and my children whom I love and cherish dearly, and my faith. I know without a doubt that we will see our son again. I take comfort in knowing that families are forever.”
If you are interested in donating, call McKay-Dee Hospital at 801-387-2800 and ask for Jensen. You can also go to mwmothersmilkbank.org for more information. Monetary donations may also be made to the nonprofit organization.