After three years of exciting development, NeoVest is ready for testing on babies. It’s an award-winning technology developed at St. Michael’s to help newborn babies breathe. The timing is perfect: the NeoVest clinical trial showcases the groundbreaking work of St. Michael’s just as the hospital’s $10 million MOMENTS: The Campaign for Moms and Babies in support of a new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is launching.  

Premature babies may have difficulty breathing when they are first born. Traditional ventilators – with tubes into the air ways or nose – are hard on delicate newborns and can cause permanent damage. They can also interfere with breastfeeding and hinder parent-infant bonding, says Dr. Doug Campbell, director of St. Michael’s neonatal intensive care unit. “For such critically ill newborns, breathing support with a mechanical ventilator is a life-saving treatment,” Dr. Campbell says. “But it leaves much to be desired.”

So Dr. Jennifer Beck and her partner, Dr. Christer Sinderby, of St. Michael’s Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science came up with NeoVest, a sealed ‘negative pressure’ shell around the baby’s stomach that gently pulls on the abdomen to help the baby breathe. The wireless technology picks up signals from the baby’s brain to the baby’s diaphragm and fires a message to a pressure-controller unit that synchronizes the NeoVest with the baby’s own breathing. 

NeoVest has been gathering awards since its earliest conception. It won the St. Michael’s Angels Den contest in 2015 and, in August 2016, the Global Healthcare Innovation Academy’s international competition.

NeoVest is just one way that St. Michael’s clinicians and scientists strive for the best possible care for their tiniest patients. St. Mike’s is planning a new, state-of-the-art maternity space with neonatal intensive care, obstetrics, gynecology and a recovery unit – all on a single floor. That means moms at St. Michael’s Hospital won’t be separated from their babies if either of them needs special care: they can be treated right where they are by world-class experts.

Every year, St. Michael’s NICU cares for approximately 600 sick, fragile babies. With patients from all socio-economic groups, St. Michael’s Mother & Baby Care Unit is one of the best anywhere. St. Michael’s is the hospital other hospitals call when they need advice on how to care for vulnerable moms and their babies. And St. Michael’s is the only hospital in Canada with a perinatal addiction team, caring for the rising number of newborns suffering from opioid withdrawal – a challenge that affects people from every background.

“We’ve had some unbelievable cases – women in comas who have a little person growing inside of them,” says Dr. Campbell. “Who is going to look after them? We are.”

Our renovated NICU will be located in St. Michael’s new flagship Peter Gilgan Patient Care Tower. Along with our obstetrics unit, the design will draw on knowledge about what’s best for fragile newborns and their families. The unit will have private, spacious rooms designed to keep families together because studies show that this “family-integrated model” produces the best outcomes. It will have a Transitional Care Unit where moms receive peer-to-peer support. It will have a larger “Golden Hour Room” – named for the critical hour following birth when medical treatment saves lives. And it will have a larger triage and assessment room, where women can be examined with more privacy and better infection control.

“We’re not just creating a nice space,” said Dr. Campbell. “We’re fundamentally changing the way babies are cared for.” 

There are many ways to help St. Michael’s fulfill its commitment to the highest quality care to babies and their families. Please donate to MOMENTS: The Campaign for Moms and Babies today. 

To donate, please click here, or contact Justyna Jonca at 

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