Our Families

Family meant everything to Sandra and as much as she loved curling, her first love was her husband Shannon and her two daughters, Sara and Jenna. This love extended to her entire family, her friends and teammates. Sandra reminded us in a message read to the curlers at the 2000 Scotties Tournament of Hearts that they should all remember that curling is just a game. Family is everything. This drives the Foundation’s mission to fund the purchase of life-saving equipment for Neonatal Intensive Care Units so that babies born premature and critically ill have the chance to grow up and be a champion like Sandra. This much needed equipment enable families to stay together in their own communities and not be separated as these miracle babies with their amazing wills to live receive the care they so desperately need.

Emma Gushulak is one of those babies that spent the first part of her life in a NICU at BC Children’s Hospital. In many ways Emma is the poster child for the Sandra Schmirler Foundation. When we first shared her story 7 years ago there was an outpouring of concern from donors across Canada. Emma and her Mom Diane were featured in a public service announcement which continues to bring many inquiries as to how she is doing today. Here is her story as told by her Mom.

“In the summer of 2006 I was pregnant for the first time and we were thrilled. My (now) husband Brent Gushulak and I had already gone through two (2) IVF cycles with no success, and we were told that the third time would have to be the last. One out of only two little embryos took, and becoming pregnant was our first miracle. We were ecstatic.

Unfortunately, our happiness was short lived. On October 7th, at exactly 23 weeks gestation, I started having very painful contractions. We rushed to BC Women’s and Children’s Hospital and after an ultrasound we knew we were in trouble. Not so much from the Doctor’s words, but from the expressions on their faces. They will not resuscitate a baby who is younger than 23 weeks, and the day I was admitted was 23 weeks to the day. We were very frightened.

emma-smilingMy contractions started to get worse, and were very painful. IF the baby survived, there was a 50% chance that there would be something fundamentally wrong with one or all of the major organs. They performed an emergency Caesarean section, and our baby girl was born at 23 weeks and 4 days gestation. She weighed 1 lb., 1 ounce and was given 20% odds of survival. When her dad first saw her she was in a plastic bag to keep warm and she grabbed his finger as if she never wanted to let go. We named her “Emma Diane” and held our breath. The word “BELIEVE” .. in that “..we have to BELIEVE she will make it ….” became our motto.

We were in the BC Women’s and Children’s Hospital for 120 days. She was so fragile that we weren’t allowed to hold her for 2 weeks. Her skin was so thin it was translucent. Emma had surgery at 27 weeks to close her PDA duct (small valve above the heart that a new-born closes to start breathing). The operation was successful, but they had to paralyze her for 2 days so she could heal. I cannot describe the horror and helplessness of watching your tiny baby in a coma for 2 days unsure if she will ever wake up again. Emma was in an incubator and intubated for 6 weeks (breathing apparatus down her throat), then on a device called CPAP, and eventually free-flowing oxygen. She didn’t breath on her own until a week before Christmas. She opened her eyes for the first time on her Dad’s birthday, 13 days after she was born, it was the best present he has ever received. She had 11 blood transfusions and daily blood tests. She has a number of scars from all the intra-venous and PICC lines they had to run. Emma was wired up to a machine or monitor until the day we took her home.

We brought her home 4 months later on Valentine’s Day 2007, 1 week after her due date. Our 2nd miracle.

emma jacketI am a competitive curler who competed against Sandra, so when the Sandra Schmirler Foundation’s mission became focused on neonatal care I was thrilled. It was the perfect avenue for Emma and myself to get involved. Emma and I do a fund-raiser of some sort every year and will continue to through-out our life-time. If you consider that one day in the NICU costs between $2800-$4200 A DAY to keep these babies alive… then we figure Emma cost upwards of a half a million dollars to the Hospital. It might take us the rest of our lives to pay it back, but we will try! Please join us in helping other babies and families get the same expertise and treatment that we received.

The Sandra Schmirler Foundation raises money to support Neonatal Care across Canada to save babies that have the same will to fight in them that Sandra had in her fight against Cancer. BC Women’s and Children’s is one of many hospitals they support. Sandra was a great lady, competitor, mother, wife, and friend. It is with great pride and respect that we are part of this organization. Emma was a fighter, but she didn’t do it alone. She needed all the help a neonatal facility could provide.

Today, Emma is a happy healthy little girl who loves to skate, ski, dance, do gymnastics, swim, bike, run races and yes she loves to curl! She beat all the statistical odds against her, but not without the help of the incredible staff at BC Women’s and Children’s, and organizations such as the Sandra Schmirler Foundation. She is perfectly healthy and incredibly happy. My guess is she innately knows that she beat the odds against her! Her Doctor’s call her a “Miracle” and that is not a word they throw around lightly.

Preston and Carter Gioia

The Sault Ste. Marie Area Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), its tiny patients and their families, all benefited from a generous donation of $30,000 by the Sandra Schmirler Foundation towards the purchase of a new incubator.

The new GE Healthcare Giraffe incubator is a sophisticated piece of equipment, offering ultimate comfort for premature babies and ease of use for parents and care providers. “Our new incubator accommodates two babies and offers many exceptional features, including optimal control of light, noise, heat, humidity and oxygen,” says Gisele Anderson, Manager of Maternal/Child Program. Gisele explains that tiny, fragile babies in the NICU need a peaceful, stable environment to grow and thrive. “This incubator is equipped with a bed tilt, an elevating base, an integrated scale and a softer rotating mattress, all features that allow you to take care of babies without disturbing them, promoting an optimal healing environment.”

The new incubator was first put to good use on when premature twins, Preston and Carter Gioia, were born. Proud parents Stephani and Giancarlo were thrilled with the new accommodations for their baby boys.

Here’s their story.

Gioia Twins 2

Prior to the twin’s expected arrival in mid-April of 2010, my husband and I were enjoying life with our two daughters, Olivia, who was 5 and Ava who was 1-1/2. Although any twin pregnancy is riskier than a singleton, I really went into it believing prematurity would never be something that would affect our family. We’d experienced a small taste of the NICU life back when our oldest was born, as she had spent the first eight days of her life there due to meconium complications in delivery. Even with that experience, we were naive to the fact that the twins may in fact not be full term.

Anyone who has experienced a twin pregnancy knows, frequent OB visits, ultrasounds, non-stress tests, to name a few are part of your everyday. One of the twins, Preston, “Baby B” was being monitored more closely during the pregnancy for a kidney condition, and that was probably the biggest thing on our minds, wondering what may happen to him at delivery. At a routine non-stress test at the hospital on February 22, 2010, something was off. An emergency ultrasound, blood work, a call to my OB, Dr. Myriam Amimi and a few hours later we learned I had developed HELLP Syndrome which worsened quickly. At 7:34 and 7:35 a.m. the next morning Carter and Preston were born via c-section on the first day of my 33rd week.

They weighed in at 4 and 3 pounds respectively and we were again faced with a NICU stay which ended up being around a month; much shorter than initially expected. We still remember those days, like they were yesterday, spending countless hours at the side of the GE Giraffe which was purchased with the help of the generous donation of the Sandra Schmirler Foundation.


By the time they were 3 1/2 years old and we are proud to say they weighed nearly 10 times their birth weight! Through the years, they did suffer the usual preemie struggles, weigh-gain problems, feeding issues, and delays in their gross-motor skills, most would never know it now. We still remember the day they finally made it ONTO the growth chart at the paediatrician’s office 2 years after their birth! Shortly thereafter they graduated from all of the physiotherapy, speech therapy, and infant development nurse visits.

To say they are bundles of energy would be an understatement! Carter, with his big blue eyes looks nothing like his brother Preston with his straight hair and dark brown eyes. They love to play outside, run and try to keep up with their big sisters, Ava and Olivia. They enjoy taking in a local Soo Greyhound hockey game with Daddy and can’t wait to play hockey on the ice! Carter is my little shadow, and loves to just be close to anyone and everyone. He is a cuddle-monster at heart. Preston is fiercely independent and loves cars. Fortunately, Carter is blessed with relatively good health and though Preston still has issues with hydronephrosis and reflux, he certainly doesn’t let that stop him.

It’s funny, to this day, we can still remember the fond nicknames one of our favourite NICU nurses gave them and smile when we think back to all of the big wishes we had for them during those weeks spent in the NICU. The “Champions Start Small” is so very true from our own little experience in premature babies. Those two little boys had an entry into this world not like what we had expected but they were both true fighters and today, we can say they are our little champions.

We are proud to share our story with you!

Bella Mae Reeves

Tracy Comeau is Executive Director of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Foundation in Charlottetown, PEI. Tracy shares with us a story about Jessica and Steve Reeves and their baby Bella Mae saying, “I am pleased to attach a story with supporting photos demonstrating the impact that the support of the Sandra Schmirler Foundation has made to all of Prince Edward Island. Thank you for all that you do for newborn babies across Canada in Sandra’s memory”.

Here’s their story.

Bella-Mae-prematureTwenty-five weeks into her pregnancy, Jessica Reeves of Freetown, Prince Edward Island was hospitalized due to complications. Five weeks later, at just 30 weeks pregnant, Jessica delivered her daughter Bella Mae Reeves on December 17, 2011 by way of emergency caesarian section at an out of province specialty centre. Born much earlier than Jessica and her husband Steve were expecting, Bella Mae came into the world at just two pounds five ounces (1,134 grams).

Once Bella Mae grew to three pounds, she returned home to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in PEI. Completely unaware of the NICU expertise available in PEI, Jessica’s fears and anxieties were quickly put to rest upon meeting the skilled pediatric doctors and nursing staff at the QEH, and experiencing the exceptional level of care that she and her daughter received.

The Reeves family is eternally grateful for the NICU service, staff, and medical equipment available thanks to generous donors like the Sandra Schmirler Foundation. Being able to receive their care at home in PEI, reduced anxiety, travel, and distance between them. Jessica experienced first-hand the added provisions and support the NICU receives from dedicated donors like the Sandra Schmirler Foundation that has contributed over $140,000 to purchase priority medical equipment for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the QEH.

Last year, the Sandra Schmirler Foundation moved up to Major Benefactor on the QEH Foundation’s donor wall. All gifts add up to make a significant impact for patients and families like the Reeves family.

Bella Mae is doing great, and has caught up to her age group with no long-term concerns to her health.

Bella Mae and Steve
Bella Mae and Steve
steve and jess

bella today
Bella Mae Today

The Farris Twins

farris-twinsJames Carruthers with the BC Women’s Foundation shared this photograph of the first time twins Samantha and Rebecca Farris were united…..57 days after they were born.

Here is their story:

Thank you for saving our daughters lives. As supporters of the BC Women’s Hospital Foundation, you are part of the team that saved my two beautiful babies, Rebecca and Samantha. In February 2012 we found out we were pregnant with twins. We felt so excited and blessed with two identical babies.

This joy soon turned to anxiety when a routine screening detected abnormal blood flow to the babies making our twin pregnancy especially high risk. We were referred to the Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist team at BC Women’s Hospital, Western Canada’s referral centre for complex twin pregnancies.

The team found that we were at risk of losing one or both of our babies during the pregnancy. Our girls presented with a complication in which their blood vessels were interconnected, so they shared a single blood supply. This shared system meant that the twins fates were linked, the growth and survival of one twin depended on the health and survival of the other twin. It was possible we would not even make it far enough in the pregnancy for either baby to survive.

I feel incredibly lucky that we had such an amazing Maternal Fetal Medicine team, who worked so hard to monitor our pregnancy closely, as we spent 18 weeks in and out of the hospital hoping we might be able to bring two healthy babies home.

On August 15th, Rebecca developed critical blood flow changes and her growth stalled. So, 29 weeks into my pregnancy, I had an emergency caesarean section and delivered Samantha at 2 lbs. 11 oz and Rebecca at 2 lbs. 6oz. The girls were immediately admitted to the BC Women’s Hospital Newborn ICU.

During their stay, our two girls received one heart surgery, three blood transfusions, five head ultrasounds, 38 days on a number of different respirators, 74 days on lower intensity breathing support, and countless hours of exceptional care.

I can’t tell you what a difference the hospitals amazing equipment made to my babies. It is mind blowing that there is the technology available: to breath for my girls when they couldn’t breathe on their own; to give my girls additional blood when they weren’t able to produce enough for themselves; and to feed my girls when they are too weak and too little to feed themselves.

It was 57 long days from their birth until I could reunite my girls and hold them in my arms together.
At day 68, we were finally able to bring Samantha home. Rebecca required another 27 days in the hospital, during which time we had one baby at home and one baby in the Newborn ICU.  We spent a total of 94 days being cared for by the Newborn ICU’s amazing team of professionals.
Both my husband and I feel deeply grateful. In a different community or country, my pregnancy could have had a very tragic outcome.

Thank you for your very generous support of Women’s Hospital and the NICU. Others donated to the NICU so our babies could survive, so thank you for giving, since there are so many other babies that need support.

From all of us to all of you, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
You made this family possible.

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