ORLANDO, Fla. – Karen Kesler, executive director of the Mother's Milk Bank of Florida, is the News 6 Getting Results Award winner of the week.
Kesler had the vision for a Florida milk bank five years ago. She took it upon herself to make sure it happened.
"The neonatal intensive care units in Florida have been ordering their milk from Texas or Denver Colorado," she says. " I thought why don't we have a milk bank in Florida and we started working on bringing one here."
The nurse and lactation consultant realized the importance of human milk for premature babies while working in the neonatal unit at Florida Hospital.
"I just saw the difference it made," she says. "I wanted babies to have access to that milk."
Mothers of premature babies are often unable to provide their own milk until weeks after birth. Research shows human breast milk is helpful in preventing infection, increasing weight and positively impacting survival and quality of life statistics.
Dr. Jose Perez, Neonatology-Perinatal specialist at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies says having a reliable supply of donated mother's milk for low birth weight babies is critical.
"It's a big deal in terms of babies, in terms of outcomes, as far as cost, in terms of expectations of how good these babies are going to do when they go home."
Perez says there have been times when supply from other states has been a problem.
"We've had issues, we've had occasions where the supply is a bit more limited," he says. "so having that here will only enhance the Central Florida community."
Kesler calls the lab her "baby" after putting in so much work to get it up an running. Her baby is now helping real babies across the state.
"There's a lot of little babies that need that milk because what it does is it protects them from infection and it helps them develop neurologically."
The 1,600-square-foot processing lab, which opened last month, was a culmination of five years of grassroots effort.
"It's a long road. You have to raise funds, we're a 501(c)3. We follow the guidelines of the human milk banking association of North America which sets standards so it's very safe." She says. "I was just the persistent one who said 'come on you know we have to keep this going."
Kessler hopes having a local milk bank will raise awareness of the need and inspire more moms to donate.
Kesler credits the board of directors for helping her along the way.
"It hasn't been all me," she says. "I'm just the persistent one that just keeps on trucking."
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