Neonatology fellow returns to train at NICU that saved her life

Oct. 30, 2010

Thirty years ago, babies like Maria Sottosanti rarely survived. Born Jan. 9, 1980 at only 26 weeks gestation and weighing a scant 1 lb 15 ozs, the tiny infant’s chances were slim. 

But Maria hung on — with much hope, prayer and expert care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at St. Joseph’s Hospital in London. Her ever-optimistic father, Peter, drove from Sarnia most evenings to deliver milk expressed by his wife, and to stare at his precious daughter. When the infant no longer needed assisted ventilation, an exuberant Peter announced to the care team, “My Maria, she’s going to be great!”

He was right. His Maria, by all accounts, is awe-inspiring.

Sottosanti, now 30, recently came back to St. Joseph’s Hospital and an emotional welcome from many of the NICU staff — past and present.  But this wasn’t an ordinary visit by an NICU graduate. Sottosanti was returning as a neonatology fellow who will work in the very unit where her life was saved.

“It’s something I always thought about,” says the young physician. “I feel like I’ve come full circle. I’m so grateful to be here.”

At the homecoming, Dr. Graham Chance, a Canadian pioneer in the care of very low birth weight babies and St. Joseph’s director of nurseries when Sottosanti was born, reminisced about the evolution of neonatology as a specialty.  He recalls presenting the infant’s case, along with others, as evidence that babies born at 26 weeks gestation weighing as little as 800 grams can indeed do well with specialized perinatal care. At the time, there was a movement not to save such tiny infants to control increasing costs.  It was a battle for life that Dr. Chance and his colleagues would win.

“This is why Maria’s presence here is not only miraculous but a great joy for all of us.”

Sottosanti thanked all who cared for her 30 years ago. She is now eager to do the same for others born too early and too small.  “This is where I belong. I’ve come back to the place it all began.”

I was born at St. Joseph's...

Everyone who was born, gave birth and provided care at St. Joseph’s has a story — and together those stories tell of a legacy that can’t be described in words alone. In October St. Joseph’s launched a new, interactive website called I Was Born at St. Joseph’s which features the history of perinatal care, heart-tugging stories from the public, memories from staff, a look at the future, and an opportunity for all to add their own stories, videos and photos to create a lasting tribute.  

Recently t-shirts were also created which express the pride in the care of women and newborns at St. Joseph’s. Staff and parents are scooping up the shirts that celebrate the legacy of life and love at St. Joseph’s which includes more than 100 years of perinatal care and more than 100,00 births.

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