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

Campaign aims to bring urgent neonatal care to new Terrace hospital
Chief Crystal Smith knows firsthand the importance of a new NICU in Terrace.

When Haisla Chief Crystal Smith’s daughter Ashley experienced complications in her pregnancy last year, she had to leave her home and community for urgent care. But that was just the start of their journey.

“We left our home in Kitamaat Village to the Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace for his birth,” Smith recalls. “Luka was a big baby boy but he wasn’t keeping anything down and the nurse expressed urgency on this. They didn’t want to risk further complications with more tests when he was already traumatized.”

At just three days old, Luka and Ashley were flown to Prince George, nine hours away.

“I was so terrified. I drove with my son-in-law, my older granddaughter and older grandson. It was truly scary to not know what was wrong, but I drove all night because I wanted my daughter to know her family was there for her and she was not alone,” Smith says.

The family’s experience points to the vital importance of the R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation’s Closer to Home campaign to add a new, $14.5-million, Tier 3 neonatal intensive care nursery (NICU) at the new hospital replacement project underway.

The state-of-the-art space will offer the most current models of care for all high-risk, expectant women, including many from area Indigenous communities, who will have access to care near their own communities and families, instead of leaving to receive care in Vancouver or Prince George, like Chief Smith’s family.

“Our Indigenous community always comes together in these situations with meals and support, and it will be a lot less stressful to not be flown hundreds of miles away,” says the influential leader and Chief of the Haisla Nation.

Today, Luka and Ashley are both thriving. However, their ordeal has stayed with the family, and it highlights the need for the new Neonatal unit the Foundation is raising funds to build for the area.

“Our situation is one of the better outcomes. It opened my eyes to deeply empathize with anyone in my shoes who had a different outcome, so I think about the future benefit of having our First Nations communities as close together as possible,” Smith says.

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

Support from the Haisla Nation for the Tier 3 NICU

Chief Smith is extremely supportive of the new NICU unit in Terrace that will ensure First Nations families can properly welcome the new generation into the world, something spiritually valued in First Nations communities. More than 40,000 local First Nations people from 28 local First Nations communities will benefit from the immediate access to newborn care.

“This is so hugely important for our Indigenous communities, but also the community as a whole. I will continue to advocate for our people for anything that contributes to a higher standard of living for our people,” Smith says.

To learn more, including how you can contribute to the Closer to Home campaign, visit, call 250-641-5526 or check out their Facebook.