Grace’s story

Help us to pioneer treatments for lung disease in pre-terms

The festive season is traditionally a time when families and loved ones get together. But for Donna O’Sullivan and Mark Connor, it’s a time when they remember a special member of their family – their daughter Grace. Grace Connor

Grace Connor was born 15 weeks premature, due to complications from a twin pregnancy, in July 2012. The life-saving respiratory support she was placed on in hospital had irreversible consequences.

Grace developed Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia (BPD), a chronic lung disease that affects up to 50 per cent of pre-term babies placed on respiratory support.

But Grace was a fighter. After 134 days in hospital she was well enough to spend her first Christmas at home, surrounded by her family, a time they will never forget. But this time was to be short lived.

At nearly fiftteen months old, and after being in and out of hospital all her life, Grace contracted the flu. Her fragile body was unable to cope with the infection, and she suffered a cardiac arrest. Grace passed away in hospital in October 2013.

Researchers from Hudson Institute of Medical Research’s baby health hub, The Ritchie Centre, are pioneering a world-first treatment for BPD.

Dr Rebecca Lim’s team is using amnion epithelial cells extracted from the amniotic membrane (part of the placenta) and applying them to the lungs of premature babies with BPD. These cells work by attaching themselves to the damaged lung tissue, ‘kick-starting’ the repair process in growing infants.

Previous trials have been promising, but Dr Lim’s work is currently funded through a philanthropic grant, and further funding is needed to extend the trial.

Parents Donna and Mark are committed to helping fund the Hudson’s research to help find improved treatments for premature babies. Grace’s identical twin sister Chelsea still lives with complications of BPD, and spent 10 weeks on oxygen support in hospital after catching a cold.

“We have been told to expect some setbacks and hospitalisation over the next few years while Chelsea’s lungs grow and build some reserve capacity,” Donna said.

“It offers comfort that Grace’s life and what she went through can offer possibilities for other families to have survival. For those who have experienced the shattering news there is no known “cure” for their loved ones conditions, medical research is where we seek answers and hope,” she said.

With your help, our researchers will continue to improve healthcare and treatments available to babies born prematurely. To make a donation, see here.