Loss of sons inspires Balcatta couple to campaign for preterm birth research

Phil, Alaia (2) and Solonge Italiano with Leo and Cruz. Photo: Heartfelt/Samantha May Photography
Phil, Alaia (2) and Solonge Italiano with Leo and Cruz. Photo: Heartfelt/Samantha May Photography

A BALCATTA couple are channelling grief over the loss of their infant sons into raising awareness of premature birth.

Solonge and Phil Italiano raised nearly $12,000 for the Women and Infants Research Foundation at this year’s Run for a Reason, inspired by their twin boys.

Leo and Cruz were born in February at 23 weeks gestation but did not survive.

“I still wake up sometimes with an out of body feeling and wonder, ‘Did I really lose my boys?’,” Mrs Italiano said.

Phil and Solonge Italiano at the Run for a Reason in memory of their sons.

She described the first five months as a healthy twin pregnancy.

But after returning home from her 32nd birthday dinner, at 22 weeks pregnant, she experienced “shooting pain” and was told to go to the hospital.

Mrs Italiano’s cervix had begun dilating and she was given a hospital bed in the hope bed rest would delay labour.

Doctors believed she would give birth within 48 hours so five days later, Mrs Italiano was feeling positive.

“Every day the nurses couldn’t believe I’d made it another day,” she said.

But on the fifth day she became sick; she had contracted an infection and her life was in danger so doctors brought on labour.

“They don’t resuscitate before 24 weeks … in 10 days they could have,” Mrs Italiano said.

Though she felt like “disappearing”, the Perth blogger was encouraged by her husband to post about the experience via her Simply Solonge blog and she was overwhelmed with the feedback.

She now wants to encourage people to talk about preterm birth and proudly calls herself a mother of three.

“It’s sad to me that for some people it’s just easier to say the ones living (of their children),” she said.

“I feel like it would deny them that they were on this earth, they were here. I held them, they lived.”

Her goal is to start a conversation and help remove stigma.

“It’s something that just happens and the statistics are there to prove it,” she said.

“Speaking about it will only help more research into why it happens.”

Mrs Italiano also has plans to hold an event for mothers whose children died of preterm birth, to raise money for the foundation and Sands WA.

Alaia Italiano (2) with brothers Leo and Cruz Photo: Heartfelt/Samantha May Photography

“I feel proud, I feel like I’m creating a legacy for the boys,” she said.

“I’m making sure their memory lives on and making other mums and angel babies’ memories live on too.”

Mr and Mrs Italiano talk to their two-year-old daughter Alaia “every day” about her brothers and are trying to channel their energy into positive things.

“We’re starting to find a new normal,” Mrs Italiano said.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be the same. We’re different people now.”

For support or information any time, call Sands Australia’s national support line on 1300 072 637.

WA program to roll out across Australia

LAST week, the State Government announced a WA preterm birth program is rolling out across Australia.

The WA Preterm Birth Prevention Initiative, run by King Edward Memorial Hospital consultant obstetrician John Newnham, was established in 2014.

It is delivered through the Women and Infants Research Foundation and comprises State-wide obstetric outreach and professional health advice, a public health and social media campaign, and a dedicated preterm birth prevention clinic.

Preterm birth is a baby born from 20 to 37 weeks and in WA, about one in 12 pregnancies result in preterm birth.

In the first year of the program, there was an eight per drop in preterm births.

Mrs Italiano welcomed the announcement.

“(It’s) such an incredible and much needed initiative,” she said.

“We hope it will continue to receive the exposure and funding it needs, to continue spare other families enduring the pain we have and save precious little lives.”

It will run nationally and New Zealand and Canada are also looking at introducing the initiative.