Dad tells of frustrating fight to get breast milk imported for sick son
A Co Antrim father has expressed his frustration at having to lobby for life-saving breast milk to be imported into Northern Ireland for his sick baby son.
Ireland's only human milk bank, based in Co Fermanagh, has suspended operations due to the discovery of a potentially deadly bug.
Difficulties in achieving processing standards during the milk bank's relocation from Irvinestown to the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen earlier this year was the initial explanation.
But it later emerged that Pseudomonas aeruginosa had been found at the facility.
The first positive test for the bacteria was on January 31 - but letters informing women that their breast milk could not be used were only issued last week.
Over 250 litres of donated breast milk destined for babies in need had to be disposed of as a result. The ongoing suspension of the service has led to breast milk having to be imported from England to feed ill babies here.
However that was only through the efforts of Joel Clarke (29) from Larne, who tried to access donor milk for his baby son Wilfred, who was born prematurely on March 15 and shortly after was diagnosed with a life-threatening bowel condition. The best preventative measure for him was breast milk.
Joel and wife Hannah contacted the milk bank to request donor supplies only to discover the service had stopped. The father-of-three then undertook his own research and found that an alternative option was available.
"I contacted all the milk banks in Great Britain and discovered that the Coombe Infants Hospital in Dublin was importing milk from England. With a lot of effort, Wilfred's consultants managed to get the protocols changed to allow this to happen here. It was very frustrating but we got there in the end to help Wilfred and other babies."
Joel said the Western Trust should have been more transparent.
He added: "I understand that they don't want to take any unnecessary risks given that Pseudomonas has killed babies in the past but I don't know why they didn't come out and tell people that it was the cause in the first place.
"I feel sorry for women who spent hours expressing milk only to be told that it has been thrown away."