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Kimberly Amundson
Kimberly Amundson. (Photo via PATH)

Kimberly Amundson’s passion for international service began at a young age. The Bellevue, Wash., native participated in a yearly home-building project in Ensenada, Mexico, and the experience ignited a life-long career of aid work.

Today, she’s a program officer for Seattle-based global health nonprofit PATH, specializing in maternal and child health and nutrition — including an innovative project that uses a smartphone app to guide the flash-heat pasteurization of human milk from donors.

“I’m really big on making sure people around the world are fed in the best way possible to help nourish their growth, support their health, and empower them to give back to others,” she explains.

Amundson cultivated her love for international service as a college student — volunteering in a clinic in Tanzania, teaching nutrition to children in the Dominican Republic, and interning in global health in Switzerland. She completed a degree in Nutritional Science at Pepperdine University in California and studied global nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, while training to be a Registered Dietitian.

She worked as a field coordinator in the Democratic Republic of Congo for more than a year, helping to start a chicken project on the side, before returning to the Pacific Northwest. She’s been back for two years, working at PATH and covering shifts for dietitians at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Meet our new Geek of the Week, and continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

What are the biggest challenges to providing safe donor milk around the world? Breastfeeding is well-known as the best way to feed an infant, yet many babies born too early without sufficient weight at birth may not even have access to enough of their own mothers’ milk. In the first few days of those vulnerable babies’ lives, human milk is the best source of nutrition and immune properties to keep them healthy and prevent infection. Sometimes that milk comes from other mothers who donated their excess milk to human milk banks, where it is processed to be safe for those that need it most.

There are special challenges that face human milk banks in low resource settings – they often have the biggest burden of vulnerable infants with the fewest resources to care for them. Additionally many settings globally don’t integrate human milk bank systems into their infant feeding recommendations and practices, which really limits their effectiveness. Without adequate attention and support, other options, such as formula, are chosen to replace the gold-standard of human milk. It is recommended to use safe donor human milk from a milk bank when a mother’s own milk is unavailable, so donor human milk must be heat-treated, or pasteurized, to prevent the spread of disease. Challenges in sustaining safe and quality human milk banks include lack of available funds for human milk bank equipment, lack of policy and leadership for breastfeeding, provision of donor human milk, low breastfeeding rates coupled with insufficient numbers of lactating mothers to donate milk, competing priorities, the concern of transferring disease through donor milk, and problems with electricity or transportation, among others.

Many hospitals request for assistance in starting safe human milk banks, but little quality guidance is available for new settings to set up milk banks that meet their setting specific needs with the right support and regulation.

What role will technology and science play in addressing these challenges? Technologies are greatly needed to make human milk banking systems more cost-effective, safe, and available for low- and middle-income settings. These technologies include the equipment that helps treat/process the milk to prevent the spread of disease, testing for contaminants, storage, transport, and track and trace systems for donor human milk.”

FoneAstra system (photo credit: PATH/Josh Reid
FoneAstra milk banking system. Photo via PATH/Josh Reid.

What types of solutions are you working on at PATH? PATH, in collaboration with the University of Washington and the Human Milk Banking Association of South Africa, developed a cell-phone-based temperature monitor device, called FoneAstra, to guide flash-heat pasteurization, which is currently being piloted in milk banks in South Africa. The simple device guides the HMB technician through the treatment process, telling him/her when to remove the milk from the stove to quickly cool in an ice bath. PATH is also working on a point of care diagnostic tool to test the donor human milk post-pasteurization for microbial content to ensure proper treatment and safety for the recipient infant.”

Why is this such an important issue? Infants born too soon and too small have a much harder time surviving and preventing infection, especially without the support of their own mother’s milk. When fed a human milk diet in the first few days of life, vulnerable infants not only receive optimal nutrition for growth, they get lots of immune protection to prevent sepsis and diseases such as necrotizing enterocolitis, an infection producing inflammation at the gut. The availability of donor human milk also empowers a mother to increase her own milk supply in order to feed her own infant, showing that human milk really is gold for their infant.

Breakfast for Global Health 2015 - Bellevue
Using a smartphone to guide the pasteurization of donor milk. Photo: PATH/Christopher Nelson

How did you originally get involved in this initiative? I started learning about human milk banking in grad-school, while interning with Kiersten Israel-Ballard at PATH — originally heating milk on a stove, measuring temperature curves to understand the optimal volumes of water and milk in the jar to get the right treatment times and volumes to inform practices in South Africa.

Where do you find your inspiration? Traveling, meeting new people, exploring nature, creating, listening to podcasts.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Obvious answer would be my iPhone or laptop; seems impossible these days to do my work and communicate without them.

PATH_cubicle
Amundson’s workspace. Photo courtesy PATH

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? Sometimes it’s in my cubicle at the office or running from meeting to meeting, while other times it’s on planes, at hotels, in coffee shops, at home or in PATH offices or field sites around the world. I’m best suited to work in flexible locations, changing it up every now and again; while needing to find environments without distractions to help concentrate.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Well, it’s never a perfect science, but I find it so important to do something active before, on the way to, or after work to separate out my day — I often find it faster and a lot more stimulating to bike to work. I also soak up the wise ol’ advice to actually block out time on the calendar to focus on priority tasks — if not, it’s so easy for unnecessary meetings to take up that time.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Personally prefer Mac, although work makes me use Windows…

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Transporter — I have too many friends around the world and Skype doesn’t always cut it to maintain those friendships.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would: Create innovations in breastfeeding and human milk banking, and serve really good coffee and pie to the innovators.

I once waited in line for: At least three hours for the Indiana Jones Ride at Disneyland in its opening weeks.

Your role models: The people that have shown me that life is much bigger than what is in front of the eye, and what’s most important are relationships, which are much better than things.

Greatest Game In History: Rummy.

Best Gadget Ever: Does the Kitchen-Aid mixer count?

First Computer: Big ol’ HP desktop.

Current Phone: iPhone.

Favorite App: Podcasts.

Favorite Cause: CongoClucks

Most Important Technology of 2015: Speech-jammer app — not really, but it’s quite entertaining.

Most Important Technology of 2017: Self-charging devices without cords.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Talk to as many breastfeeding moms as possible to know their experience so you can make it easier for them. Why cringe when a baby is eating in public? They probably don’t cringe when you eat your lunch from the food truck.

Site: path.org

Twitter: @PATHtweets

LinkedIn: Kimberly Amundson

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