Jessica could never have known that, when she was working on her osteopathy thesis on the treatment of premature babies, she was actually writing her own story. Three months before she was due to give birth, she was suddenly faced with the reality that her baby would be coming into the world much earlier than expected. 

Olivia’s striking blue eyes sparkle with joy when she smiles. The nurses in the Sainte-Justine neonatal unit can’t help but smile too, because in those eyes they see the most heartening of success stories. The story of a medical victory, made possible by the Sainte-Justine family who sprung into action to give her the best possible chance at being born and growing up healthy. 

Olivia isn’t walking just yet, but she has already made some incredible strides forward since her surprise arrival at 24 weeks and 3 days – just barely over the viability threshold. 

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© Geneviève Beaupré
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The Superheroes of Sainte-Justine

August 15, 2017. It was a lovely summer morning. Jessica and Jean-François were just starting their vacation. “Let’s go for a hike!” It was something they always enjoyed doing together. But that day, they wouldn’t make it to the top. Jessica started having contractions – and they kept coming.

She was rushed to the nearest hospital in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, where they were given some shocking news. 

‘You’re in full-blown labour,’ the doctor told us. Brain damage, respiratory distress, heart defects… I was aware of the potential complications of a premature birth. Right away, I understood that we needed the expertise and state-of-the-art facilities of Sainte-Justine for our daughter to survive.

Jessica Dello Sbarba

Olivia’s mother

An ambulance ride to Montreal was deemed too risky. So the professionals at Sainte-Agathe called for Sainte-Justine’s neonatal transport team to travel north while they tried to slow down Jessica’s contractions. 

Three hours later, a fully equipped mobile NICU was on the scene, with three superheroes on board: an obstetrics fellow, a nurse and a respiratory therapist. Olivia was born right then and there. 

She was so tiny and so fragile, weighing in at only 650 grams. ‘Your daughter has a 10% to 50% chance of survival. The next 10 days will be critical,’ they said. Hearing these words was a crushing blow. 

Jessica Dello Sbarba

Olivia’s mother

The neonatal transport team stabilized her condition. And that’s when her fight for life began in earnest. The following few days would make all the difference. She was whisked away from the Sainte-Agathe ER en route toward Sainte-Justine, accompanied only by her designated team of neonatal experts. 

That’s when our marathon began. Or, more accurately, our obstacle race. Olivia ended up spending 202 days at Sainte-Justine, 162 of which were in the NICU. 

Jean-François Harvey

Olivia’s father

The next seven months at Sainte-Justine were not easy for Olivia’s family. But they never gave up hope – fuelled in large part by the advanced care their daughter received, and all with a human touch.

The very best doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals at Sainte-Justine, and the generous donors who support them, together make sure that every child has the best possible chance of surviving – and thriving. 

With Every Step, a Giant Leap Forward 

Thanks to her inner strength and the donors who provide the professionals at Sainte-Justine with the leading-edge tools they need to care for their tiny charges with such expertise and kindness, Olivia won her battle.

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Every one of Olivia’s smiles today speaks to her health, her spirit and her determination. And we owe it all to the latest advances in neonatal medicine. This progress would not be thinkable without the support of big-hearted donors who have been unswerving in supporting research and new technology at Sainte-Justine.

Jessica Dello Sbarba

Olivia’s mother

Olivia will soon be taking her first steps. But her parents know that she has already made some giant leaps forward. And all of this because of the Sainte-Justine family, who made every minute count at a crucial time while their little girl’s life hung in the balance. The same little girl who is now the picture of health and will be celebrating her second birthday this summer.

Today, a very grateful Jessica and Jean-François are more committed than ever to giving back to Sainte-Justine. 

Not only are they regular donors, but they will also be running in this year’s Urban Duathlon to support the CHU Sainte-Justine Centre of Excellence in Neonatology

Join them, as a participant or a sponsor, and do your part so that Sainte-Justine can continue to be a leader in neonatology for all newborns in Quebec and their families. 

Your generosity saved Olivia’s life. And your ongoing contributions will help us save so many more!

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Olivia and her family, along with members of Sainte-Justine's neonatal unit. © DjuBox