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Our Stories

Forget Iron Man: IRON MOM fights low iron in pregnant women

Toronto, March 21, 2018

By Kelly O’Brien

Drs. Michelle Sholzberg and Lisa Hicks present IRON MOM
Drs. Michelle Sholzberg and Lisa Hicks present IRON MOM to celebrity judges Joe Mimran, Michael Wekerle and Michele Romanow during the Angels’ Den research competition in November (Photo by George Pimentel)

Hematologists and obstetricians at St. Michael’s are working on a new project to combat low iron in pregnant women.

Created by Drs. Michelle Sholzberg, Lisa Hicks and Andrea Lausman, IRON MOM offers tools to make it easy for a medical team to recognize and treat low iron before it becomes severe, educate moms about low iron and empower women in their own health care.

Anemia is common in pregnancy and can cause problems including premature delivery, low birthweight, childhood anemia, postpartum depression and even death, according to Dr. Sholzberg, who is a hematologist at St. Michael’s.

She said the idea for the IRON MOM project came to her when she noticed that she was getting a significant number of referrals for patients with severe anemia who were well into their pregnancies.

This represented a huge missed opportunity to treat women and mitigate potential negative health outcomes for both mothers and babies, she said.

“When we see a patient with severe anemia at 37 weeks, this represents a missed opportunity,” said Dr. Sholzberg. “Low iron is easy to detect and almost as easy to treat, but is not often recognized or managed, especially in pregnancy.”

IRON MOM uses a tool kit to educate clinicians and patients. This includes posters in ob/gyn clinics with steps that guide clinicians through the process of diagnosing and treating iron deficiency anemia.

Angels Den recap
Drs. Warren Lee and Xiao-Yan Wen won the Biomedical Innovation category at the Angels Den competition for their research using zebrafish to find new compounds to treat the influenza virus.

“With these tools, we’re able to provide an iron strategy for clinicians,” said Dr. Hicks, who is also a hematologist at St. Michael’s and serves as the team’s quality improvement methodologist. “We’ve had great preliminary results at St. Michael's, so now when pregnant women are referred with anemia, they are often earlier in pregnancy and already on oral iron, which is a huge improvement.”

Drs. Sholzberg and Hicks presented IRON MOM at St. Michael’s third annual Angels’ Den event in November -- a reality-TV-style contest for innovation funding.

They won the Social Innovation category, which came with a $50,000 prize. Each of the eight finalists in the competition also received an additional $10,000 from the judges.

Dr. Hicks said the prize money will help fund an expansion and improvement of the IRON MOM project, including conversion of the current paper-based tool kit to digital tools, introducing the tools to nurses and midwives, and bringing the tool kit to hospitals and clinics across Canada, and eventually, around the world.

“Our vision and mission for IRON MOM is to emancipate and empower women, and part of that vision is not just reaching women at St. Michael’s, or in Toronto, or in Canada, but women everywhere,” said Dr. Sholzberg.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 29 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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