Giulio Di Sturco was on a beach in Tuscany with his family when he got talking to a fellow holidaymaker. "Your daughter was born premature, wasn't she?" the man asked. As it turned out, the stranger was Professor Charles Christoph Roehr, president of the European Society for Paediatric Research and a world-leading neonatal intensivist and clinical scientist.
The doctor had recognised a dummy Giulio's daughter was sucking as a type designed for preterm babies. The photographer-filmmaker's first two months as a father had been spent in hospital watching over his then-tiny child in an incubator. The professor told Giulio all about his work at the pioneering Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, UK – one of the few NICUs in the world specialising in helping babies born earlier than 24 weeks to survive.
"Foetal medicine is really new – 20 or 30 years old," Giulio says. "Premature babies are called 'miracle babies' because if they had been born in another time, they wouldn't have survived. Incubators have evolved so that now they can maintain temperature and humidity. Until five years ago, treatment was much more invasive. Charles tries to do as little as possible but to help the baby choose to survive." For example, the NICU encourages "skin to skin" contact between the baby and parents – carefully supervised by the intensive care nurses.