Former Wallabies World Cup captain Dean Mumm has a connection with Newcastle that is both optimistic and deeply emotional.
Mr Mumm and his wife Sarah lost two children – Sophie, born in 2012, and Henry, born in 2014 – due to complications arising from their premature births.
The retired rugby union player from Sydney is on a mission to fund the position of a research fellow at the Hunter Medical Research Institute to find a way to prevent preterm births.
“I think for me it’s always been about (the fact) I’ve got two children that didn’t get the opportunity to live and embrace life and all the good, fun opportunities that brings,” Mr Mumm said.
“Your children aren’t here but you never lose sight of them. I’m trying to give them a voice and a legacy going forward.”
In Australia, one in 10 babies are born before spending 37 complete weeks in the womb. Complications arising from preterm births are the leading cause of death in children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organisation.
Mr Mumm said the idea of advocating for further research into early births only came about after the conception of his third child, Alfie, who is now three-years-old.
“I became connected with HMRI because my son was born in the UK and the obstetrician [Professor Mark Johnson] that delivered him worked for Borne, a charity performing research into the prevention of preterm birth,” Mr Mumm said.
“And then we came to Australia and we wanted to keep the charity going here.
“We asked if anyone in Australia was working on this research and we were told about Dr Roger Smith at HMRI and that was sort of our introduction.”
HMRI and Mr Mumm are now in the process of fundraising $500,0000 to support a full-time researcher role affiliated with the UK charity.
“Our ultimate goal is to send someone from Newcastle to study underneath him [Dr Johnson] and bring the results from there to here and make Australia a safer place for preterm babies,” he said.
Mr Mumm visited HMRI on Wednesday in the lead up to World Prematurity Day on Saturday.
While he said he did not fully understand the avenues being explored to prevent preterm births, he said he knew he had a role to play.
“They’re talking about the nanopartical delivery of drugs,” he said. “The research and what they’re doing is just beyond my scope of vision.
“But you kind of have to focus on what you can do, and I can engage the community of people I know.”
Mr Mumm said it was important for others who had lost children to know “they are not alone”.
“Personally, I think there is a big sadness losing a child you never really got to know,” he said.
“I know it affects many families out there.”
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