Q&A with Dr. Douglas Campbell

In conversation with Dr. Douglas Campbell, Director, St. Michael’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

St. Michael’s is building a state-of-the-art Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) and maternity triage and recovery space – all on a single floor. When it’s complete, this newborn - maternity floor will provide mothers and babies with the most comprehensive care in the country from the world’s finest health-care experts. One of these is the director of our NICU, Dr. Douglas Campbell. St. Michael’s Foundation recently spoke with Dr. Campbell about his perspective on caring for our tiniest patients, unflagging optimism and vision for the future.


A NICU is where a parent’s greatest love and worst fears can be found. In other words, it’s an intensely emotional branch of medicine. What inspired you to pursue it?

Neonates or babies are so resilient. They are the most incredible patients who fight through the worst illnesses. If I can play a small role in helping their families get through this traumatizing experience, I will.

You’ve handled some incredible cases at St. Michael’s. Tell us about one of the patients who most affected you.

There are many patients, but one who sticks out is a woman who was diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer during her pregnancy. Her prognosis was really bad and she soon became a palliative care patient, which is where I first met her and her family. She was able to deliver a premature baby 11 weeks prior to her due date. The baby and the mother both benefited from visits in the NICU, but it was heartbreaking at the same time. The mother lived much longer than expected, probably because of her baby. I’ll never forget seeing the family much later – they were smitten with their new family member yet sad at the same time for their loss.

You’ve talked about the need to shift NICU to a model of family-integrated care. What does that mean and why is it important?

Families are often ‘invited’ now to be at the bedside with their loved ones, and a philosophy of ‘patient-centred’ care is now promoted amongst all health-care practitioners. What I’m talking about, however, is different. Premature babies can have decreased lengths of stay, fewer infections and a higher rate of breastfeeding if we actively involve families in their care while they are in the NICU. We expect families to take over traditional nursing care, not just ‘stay’ next to their baby. This active involvement is not only good for the parent; it is now accepted as the gold standard in medical care for the baby.

In addition to your role as Director of St. Michael’s NICU, you are also a scientist at our Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute. What do you think is the most important research happening right now in neonatal intensive care?

We are fortunate at St. Mike’s to be on the cutting edge of intensive care research, including for our babies. In the fall of this year, we will be the first NICU in the world to try out a breathing vest or ‘NeoVest.’  We are hoping this revolutionary state-of-the-art technology developed at St. Mike’s will give babies in intensive care breathing help from ventilators, but without any tubes in or on their face. This should promote more skin-to-skin time and bonding, even in the first few hours of life. We’re pretty excited.

What do you think sets St. Michael’s NICU apart from others?

We are a small community of clinicians who care. We not only want your baby and your family to get through a frightening experience, but we want him or her to thrive. This is especially important for those who are disadvantaged in life. Imagine the ability to change the trajectory of not only one life (the baby) but two (the mother). This change in trajectory will last a lifetime. Your care will not end when you leave our NICU. We are committed to your health in the years to come – we can follow your baby into the pediatric clinic and even into the school setting.

St. Michael’s Foundation is committed to raising funds to support critical care in neonatal intensive care and obstetrics. What’s your message to readers who are considering making a gift?

Excellence in critical care must include women and their brand-new critically ill babies. You can make a difference in the critical care of a baby and their mother at a time when they need it most. We all deserve this care, regardless of our background and social situation. Those who are disadvantaged by poverty, homelessness, addiction and chronic disease, however, will benefit the most when we intervene. We provide critical care to those fragile patients who need it the most. Your investment is not just for a week or a prolonged hospital stay. Your investment has the potential to change outcomes for a lifetime.


We’ve launched a $10 million campaign to build a state-of-the-art maternity space with obstetrics and gynecology, neonatal intensive care 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. And it means that if anything goes wrong during a normal delivery, moms and babies can be treated right where they are by world-class experts.
Donate online today, or contact us for more information.

Erin Baier, Director, Philanthropy – Research | BaierE@smh.ca