Just six weeks after the birth of her fourth child, a red-haired boy named Colton, Nicura Thompson held her sweet son as he died in her arms.
“There are no words to explain holding your child as they struggle to breathe and they take their last breath,” the Utah mom told TODAY. “There’s no greater pain.”
Despite the pain of losing Colton, who was born on Oct. 21 with seven heart defects, Thompson has reached out to help others. Since his death on Dec. 2, she has been pumping her breast milk and donating it to other fragile babies, her special way of honoring her son.
“I wanted to do something in his name, considering this was his milk,” said Thompson, 28. “It felt like I was keeping his memory alive through breast-milk donation and helping others.”
Thompson has been pumping four times a day, and has donated about 4,600 ounces, with more in her freezer.
“I pumped the day he died, the day of his funeral,” Thompson said. “It was hard at first because I had to overcome the fact that that milk is supposed to go to my baby, but he’s not here any more.”
She found some comfort in knowing that the milk was not going to waste.
“I thought it would bring sadness, but it really doesn’t,” Thompson said. “It gives me a sense of relief knowing that it’s going to other children who really really need it.”
Before Colton was born, Thompson and her husband, Zachary, learned that he had DiGeorge syndrome, a chromosomal problem that can cause heart defects and brain abnormalities.
He spent about a week in the hospital before joining his brothers, Logan, 8; Charlie, 7; and Kallan, 4; at the family’s home in Riverdale, Utah. They took walks, and Colton went trick-or-treating with the other boys.
“He was perfect,” Thompson said. “They said treat him like a normal baby. He was supposed to come home and grow and gain some weight.”
On Nov. 12, Colton had trouble breathing, and suffered cardiac arrest. The family spent the next 20 days fighting for their son’s life.
“When he became sick, it was a huge shock to us,” said Thompson, adding that the family was expecting Colton to reach his teen years. “We knew his life would be short. We just didn’t expect it to be that short.”
Two days before the Thompson boys kissed their youngest brother goodbye and life support was withdrawn, Thompson's husband asked about her continued pumping, and she thought of donating her milk.
“It literally dawned on me at that moment: This milk can go to other babies,” she said. “I had about 1,500 ounces at the hospital in their milk room. I was like, 'I’m going to donate all of that.'”
And after Colton was gone, she chose to continue pumping for donation.
“I knew how important breast milk was to sick babies, including my son,” she said, adding that his intestines were damaged after his cardiac arrest.
“It’s liquid gold, and these babies need it so desperately,” she said.
Thompson drops her milk off at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, and it’s shipped to Colorado for processing and pasteurization. She set a goal to donate 5,000 ounces, and may raise it to 6,000. “We’ll see how far it can go,” she said.
She hopes that other parents who have suffered the loss of a child can know that something positive can arise from tragedy, and she encourages other mothers to consider donating their milk.
“As hard as it is to imagine,” Thompson says of her loss, “some good can come out of it.”
TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter: @lisaflam