Preemie birth experience highlights need for Terrace NICU

Six years ago, Craig Dunfield and his wife, Charity, were eagerly awaiting the birth of their twins here in Terrace. While multiples often put a pregnancy into a higher-risk category, Charity and the babies were all doing well.

Their pre-natal check-up at around 34 weeks showed everything was progressing as it should and Charity left the doctor’s office with a plan to give birth and recover at Mills Memorial Hospital.

That was until her water broke that night.

Sure enough, a hospital return visit showed Charity was in active labour and several hours later, the couple welcomed babies Franklin and Bradley, recalls Craig, Branch Manager at the RBC Royal Bank in Terrace and vice-president of the R.E.M. Lee Foundation board.

While the boys were healthy, the Terrace hospital didn’t have the resources to accommodate the needs of two preemies, and with Franklin experiencing some breathing challenges, mom and babies were whisked off to Prince George by plane while Craig followed by car.

As first-time parents, the stress of the unknown was significant, not to mention the added challenge of being away from home for close to four weeks, yet they were fortunate that Craig had grown up in Prince George, so had friends nearby.

“We were very happy to be in a NICU facility, because the boys did have some issues with the blood oxygen levels, and it was very reassuring to have knowledgeable nurses around to let us know that they were manageable and nothing to worry about,” Craig says.

Still, the experience highlights the additional stress, isolation and financial cost to families without resources to draw on when they’re sent to Prince George or Vancouver for care – especially for those who’ve already travelled an hour or more just to get to Terrace.

It’s hoped that experiences like these will soon be much fewer when a new, four-bed, Tier 3 neonatal intensive care nursery is completed with the Mills Memorial Hospital replacement project.

Vital care, Closer to Home

The “Closer to Home” campaign, led by the R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation and supported by the community, will bring the most current models of care for many high-risk, expectant women who walk through the hospital’s doors.

The new NICU means vulnerable babies and anxious mothers, many from Indigenous communities, will have access in and near their own communities and families, instead of leaving to receive care in Vancouver or Prince George.

“They were our first kids and my wife was very prepared but there’s just so much you don’t know,” Craig reflects. “For the people who are already travelling two or three hours to get to the Terrace hospital, then to hear they’re being sent even further, it just makes it so much more difficult. You want to have your support network around you.”

In all, more than 75,000 people, including 40,000 in 28 area First Nations communities will benefit from the improvements to newborn care. The facility will be able to care for births as early as 34 weeks in regular cases and 32 weeks in emergencies, rather than the current 37 weeks.

Beyond the direct impact on families, the NICU will also help attract specialists and medical teams to the community, Craig says.

“The care we had and the experience at the Prince George hospital was terrific, but it’s not the same as having the doctors and caregivers you already know and trust,” Craig says. “It changes things fairly significantly.”

For more information and to support this crucial fundraising effort for the new NICU in Terrace, visit:


Terrace NICU project puts families at the heart of care

‘Not alone:’ Haisla Chief shares importance of keeping moms and babies close to home

New neonatal unit for Northwest BC will be life-changing for expectant mothers and newborns

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *