When Amanda Pacheco heard her friend Jennifer had just died, her first thought after the initial shock was, "What about baby Sara?"
Jennifer had had her first child only six weeks earlier. She was proud of her dark-haired daughter and excited about being a mom. She had told Amanda how much she loved motherhood.
Even breast-feeding. Which she hadn't been so sure about.
Now, the 33-year-old Orlando mom was gone. Jennifer Jackson Gutierrez died in her sleep Sept. 24. No one knows why.
Amanda kept thinking about Jennifer's baby. When Sara lost her mom, she also lost her source of nourishment. The baby had never had formula, never even taken a bottle.
Amanda knew what she had to do.
• • •
Amanda Pacheco, 33, has a 3-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son. She works part time, from home, for the University of Central Florida. She breast-fed her daughter until her son was born and plans to breast-feed him at least as long.
That night, she called Jennifer's husband. She hoped he wouldn't think this was weird. But in her freezer she had bags of breast milk she had pumped for her son.
Would he want it for baby Sara?
To her surprise, he said yes. Ivan Gutierrez had talked his wife into breast-feeding their daughter. He knew the benefits of mother's milk. And he knew, once Jennifer started, how much it bonded her to their baby. Before she died, Jennifer had pumped enough breast milk to feed Sara for three days.
Amanda called on day two.
She brought a cooler to the funeral home. After Jennifer's memorial service, Amanda walked with Ivan to her car. She handed him 55 ounces of frozen milk — enough to feed his daughter for two more days.
She promised to pump more.
That night, Amanda wrote about baby Sara on her Facebook page and in a moms' chat room.
By morning, a dozen moms had responded. They were all breast-feeding their babies. They all wanted to help.
"The story just struck very close to home for so many of us," said Amanda. "When someone dies, you always ask, 'How can I help?' Now, here was a way."
Amanda had looked into breast milk banks. But they were too far away, and far too expensive. And here were all these mothers wanting to donate their breast milk for a little girl they had never met.
"I have three kids. I nursed them all for a year. I know that milk is like liquid gold," said Ami Gutierrez, Jennifer's sister-in-law. "I can't imagine all these people pumping extra ounces and just giving it away for some stranger's baby. It's just amazing."
Amanda created a Web site. Her friend came up with a logo and a name: Get PUMPed! They created a health form for donors to fill out and asked moms to submit medical paperwork to prove they had been screened for HIV, hepatitis, drugs.
A nurse and birthing center offered discounted lab work. Owners of a cafe and consignment shop agreed to be drop-off locations and keep the milk cool. A mom from North Carolina wrote that she and her family were driving to Disney World — with a cooler filled with dry ice and 8 gallons of frozen breast milk.
"I kept thinking, if something happened to me, the thing I would want most is to know my child was being taken care of the way I had hoped to care for her," said Carrie Musalimadugu, 35, who has a 10-month-old daughter. She works full time, pumps twice a day in the cold data room at Merrill Lynch. She sent Sara more than 60 ounces of milk. "I didn't have any money to send. But this was a way I could help."
• • •
Ivan moved in with his parents. The house he and Jennifer lived in, the one where she died, is empty.
Except for the freezer. It's packed. So is his mom's freezer, and Amanda's freezer. And the deep freezer in her garage.
Baby Sara already has enough milk to last at least a year.
Amanda is starting a nonprofit organization. She wants to raise enough money to buy another freezer, maybe two. If all these moms are willing to share something so valuable, she is sure there are other babies who would benefit from free breast milk. Babies in foster care, babies in hospitals, babies whose mothers are undergoing chemotherapy.
"It has been unimaginable to me," Ivan Gutierrez said Friday. "It just exploded. I never would have ever even considered this was possible ..."
He paused, and when he spoke again, his voice was tight. "I can't put into words what this means to me," he said. "And to our daughter."
Lane DeGregory can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8825.