A SISTER who has worked tirelessly for the past five years to realise her dream of opening the first human milk bank in the North West has been named Cheshire Woman of the Year 2004.
Lynda Coulter, a full time neonatal sister on the special care baby unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital, fought off competition from the likes of Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle and anti-abortion campaigner Joanna Jepson to claim the title at Chester Town Hall on Wednesday.
The women who attended the event were chosen from nominations sent in by members of the public and represented a wealth of talent, achievement and service to their communities which otherwise may not have been honoured.
Winner Lynda Coulter recognised the importance of breast-feeding and the great medical benefits breast milk gives to sick and premature babies.
Mothers with a sick baby in the unit would frequently struggle to feed their babies naturally, due to the stress of having a sick baby and would have to use formula feed instead.
If donor milk was available for these babies it would give them the best start in life and their mother's own milk supply may then be established.
Human milk banks are not a new concept. There were 14 in the UK but none in the North West or Wales - the nearest were at Birmingham, Huddersfield and Glasgow.
Lynda - who lives within sight of the hospital in Gawer Park - was so convinced of the advantages for the babies in the unit of using donated human milk that she persuaded consultant paediatricians to start purchasing from Birmingham - and the dream started.
In 2001 the Countess of Chester Human Milk Bank Appeal was launched. To date £50,000 has been raised and the bank was officially opened by the Duchess of Westminster in June last year.
Lynda has recruited more than 70 mothers to be donors, has had more than 200 litres of donor milk pasteurised and has supplied five hospitals in the North West with human milk for their sick and premature babies.
She has talked to parents, paediatricians, nurses, midwives, businesses, chief executives - anyone who would listen - about the need for the North West to have its own milk bank.
And she has done all of this while working full time in the neonatal unit - not to mention looking after her two sons Gary and Colin and husband Ron.
At a recent conference in London, Lynda was asked to speak about the difficulties in setting up this project and the importance of human milk for vulnerable babies.
She said: 'The whole project has been a rollercoaster ride of varying levels of sheer exhilaration and utter despondency.
'Assertiveness, patience and an endless supply of energy are all that is required to launch a milk bank, but the benefits are never ending.'