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How Ontario’s health care system supported Sara through a high-risk pregnancy

Making a true connection with someone doesn’t happen every day. Last fall, a patient and two nurses at Sunnybrook did exactly that.

It began in November 2019 when Sara Lafrance’s pregnancy took a turn. She was rushed from Sudbury to Toronto for care. While at Sunnybrook, she was cared for by two nurses who left a lasting impression.

Lynn Castro, a nurse in Sunnybrook’s Birthing Unit, says: “I am so delighted to hear about Sara! I remembered her right away without even knowing her name. We had such great conversations about nursing, dogs, partners and life! It is so nice when you truly connect with people. I am so glad to hear that she carried to term and that all is well. I can’t tell you how much I wondered what happened to her.”

Sara shared her journey, in her own words, after asking about the nurses who made such a difference with her care.

Sara’s story:

Being pregnant for the first time is exciting and scary all at the same time. Adding a rare high risk complication is more than enough to put the experience over the top.

At 29 weeks of pregnancy, after about 18 hours of feeling decreased movements, I left work to go to my local hospital in Sudbury to be checked. I told my boss I would probably be back before our lunch hour was finished.

Life had another plan for me.

Fast forward 12 hours and I was on an Ornge air ambulance to Sunnybrook. I required specialized high risk obstetrical care, including fetal medicine specialists, and these services aren’t available in northern Ontario.

I arrived at Sunnybrook alone in the middle of the night, after sending my husband home to sleep before driving to meet us in Toronto. Being a Registered Nurse myself, I am all too familiar with the reality that goes along with high risk pregnancy and the looming threat of delivering a very premature baby. In some situations, knowledge is not power – instead fueling your imagination about the worst case scenario.

When I arrived at Sunnybrook, I was greeted by my first nurse Ewa. I was struck by her professionalism and attentiveness. Each time she entered and left my room she told me what was coming next, and when she would return.

I remember finally breaking down and quietly crying at about 4am. Ewa noticed right away and pulled her chair up to my bedside to talk. She gave me the space to voice my fears of what life with a preemie (premature baby) would look like, including a long term stay in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) far from my hometown.

Ewa was able to balance providing me with solid, evidence-informed medical information the nurse inside me wanted, with the hope I desperately needed in that moment. She managed to calm me down with facts, and her own professional and person experiences. In a short time, she was able to help me reframe my thoughts and feel prepared for what was ahead.

At shift change, I met my next nurse, Lynn. By this time, the plan was to deliver my baby by caesarean section early in the day. I was placed on various medications, some that required constant bedside monitoring. Lynn kept me apprised of the medical plan and chatted with me about what things would be like in the NICU.

After working in an Emergency Department for 11 years, maternal care after 20 weeks is pretty much the only population I wasn’t used to working with. Lynn was able to keep me distracted as I asked her a million questions about nursing in a high risk centre, the types of patients they see and the cutting edge research and interventions that are now possible. We chatted about our careers, the variations between nursing in northern Ontario and Toronto. We chatted about our partners, dogs, city versus rural life, and how I could convince my husband to go with the name I had picked out for our baby girl. It felt like chatting with an old friend.

In the end, I was transferred to Mount Sinai Hospital for a speciality treatment. It was determined I had a fetomaternal hemorrhage, a rare condition where the baby loses blood to the mother’s bloodstream, leaving the baby severely anemic. I was able to carry to term. On Jan 7, 2020 I gave birth to a healthy 9lb 2oz baby girl. Maeva is now five months old and meeting all her milestones. She has filled our days with happiness and made our house a home.

I am beyond thankful for the medical care I received in Sudbury at Health Sciences North, from the Ornge flight paramedics, the birthing team at Sunnybrook and the fetal medicine department at Mount Sinai.

It takes more than a village to raise a child. Mine took the entire provincial health care system. The connections made with the nurses at Sunnybrook were instrumental in my journey to motherhood and will always be a treasured memory.