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Major new Calgary study tackles ‘really big problem’ of premature births

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WATCH: There’s a major new study underway in Calgary that could help save a lot of families a lot of pain. As Gil Tucker reports, it’s a real community effort, aimed at preventing premature births. – May 5, 2021

Calgarians Molly and Pat Wilding were having fun with their baby daughter on the playground outside the Alberta Children’s Hospital on Wednesday.

They enjoyed putting Gianna on the teeter-totter and swings; it was such a long way from that morning in January 2020 when the little girl was born four months premature.

“She was only one pound and six ounces — the tiniest human that we had ever seen,” Molly said. “She was immediately taken over to the respiratory therapists and put on a ventilator.”

Read more: Born at under 1 pound, she’s gone home as possibly the world’s tiniest surviving micro-preemie

Gianna ended up spending her first five months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Foothills and Rockyview hospitals.

“Those were the most exhausting days, terrifying days, of our lives,” Molly said.

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“There was still a very high risk of us losing Gianna, even in the NICU,” Pat said, “just because of how premature she was.”

Read more: Women with insomnia more likely to deliver premature babies: study

It was not at all something the couple had been expecting.

“I’m a healthy young woman. There were no risk factors,” Molly said.

The Wildings aren’t alone. Nine per cent of births in Alberta are premature — one of the highest rates in Canada.

“It’s a really big problem,” University of Calgary researcher Dr. Donna Slater said.

Slater is part of an effort to help solve that problem.

She is one of more than 40 scientists and doctors with the U of C and Alberta Health Services who are teaming up on a major new study, starting with a new blood test to identify women at risk of giving birth prematurely.

Read more: Bacteria living in mother’s body gives scientists clues to those at risk for premature birth

“We are very excited about this, the potential for this test. We’ve already got some very exciting data,” Slater said.

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The Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Calgary Health Foundation are hoping to raise $5 million in donations to help fund the study, trying to recruit 4,000 women to take part during their pregnancies.

“This is very much a community effort. It’s very important,” Slater said. “It’s not just about the science; it’s about the science and the community and what we can all do together to help prevent preterm birth and really improve those outcomes for the babies.”

Read more: Canmore-area nurse shares devastating loss of two babies

The outcome so far for Gianna looks promising, as the family continues regular visits to the Alberta Children’s Hospital for follow-up appointments.

“She’s off oxygen now,” Molly said. “She’s crawling all over the house.”

Molly hopes the new study will make a difference.

“If it can help any family to not have to go through any time in the NICU, that would be amazing.”

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