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New FHS researchers: Meet Dr. Sandra Fucile

New FHS researchers: Meet Dr. Sandra Fucile

Dr. Fucile is an Assistant Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy 

Can you give me a quick summary of your research? 

The main focus of my research is to improve the development, function, and quality of life in infants who are at risk for long-term developmental disabilities and reduce further negative consequence on their quality of life and that of their families. My main population of interest is infants who are born prematurely. They are at a high risk for long-term developmental disabilities not only because they're born early, which is associated with lung, gastrointestinal, and other medical problems, but also due to the fact that they’re separated from their parents and placed in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). While the NICU is crucial for their survival, the actual NICU environment (bright lights, loud noises, invasive medical procedures, and multiple caregivers) can be detrimental to their development. Therefore, a lot of my research is focused on early intervention strategies to minimize or prevent any long-term developmental disabilities this population may face. 

What do you hope to learn from your research? 

Because these babies are in the NICU and they’re physically separated from their parents, we as therapists will provide various interventions such as range of motion, positioning, or sensorimotor programs that involve stroking and positive touch to reduce the severity of potential disabilities. At this stage in my research, we have the evidence to show that provision of early interventions, such as sensorimotor programs, improves development, and what we are ready to do now is engage parents to provide such interventions to their babies. What I hope to learn, and hopefully what my research will demonstrate, is that by involving family members in providing early interventions, we can enhance infants’ overall quality of life even further. 

Why is your research important to you? 

During my clinical practice, as an occupational therapist in the NICU, one thing I realized was that a lot of times we were referred a little too late to help babies as much as we could. That's when I was inspired to commence a research career trying to demonstrate the effectiveness of providing therapy services earlier on to minimize any long-term developmental delays in this highly vulnerable population. I’ve seen firsthand the detrimental effects that being born too early can have on infants’ development, and I hope my research will enhance their quality of life. 

What kind of impact do you hope your research will have? 

A lot of my studies are family-driven, with parents providing the interventions, however we're still in the initial phase of showing that parents providing early intervention strategies can improve their baby’s outcome. What I’m hoping will happen is that this can be translated into clinical practice where parents can become part of standard care, as the key people providing interventions for their own babies. Recently, one of my studies, which looks at parent-administered sensorimotor intervention in the NICU, has been funded by the CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research) Early Career Investigator Grant, so I'm really hoping this is going to translate into real change. 

That being said, once I got this position at Queen’s University, my main long-term research goal has been to establish an infant research centre here and to put us at the forefront of infant research in Canada. I’m currently working with pediatricians in the Department of Pediatrics, with other faculty at the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, and now I’m branching out into the School of Nursing to hopefully build momentum towards establishing that infant research centre. 

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

Believe it or not, when I was a kid, I just knew that I wanted to work with babies. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to help care for babies in some capacity, and here I am today doing just that. 

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