Super-small superheroes

Raising awareness of premature births with a viral media campaign

To help raise awareness of premature births, a maternity hospital in Singapore honoured some of their ‘preemies’ with a superhero-inspired online photo collection that quickly went viral as well as drawing mainstream media attention.

Image: KKH

Just off along a quiet, unassuming corridor on the second floor of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) in Singapore, lies a set of double glass doors. For almost 20 years, this doorway has seen generations of fragile little patients come and go, and has also borne witness to the myriad emotions of their parents and caregivers – denial and acceptance, anxiety and triumph, grief and joy; and perhaps the most powerful emotion of all: hope.

Above this doorway sits a sign that states – very matter-of-factly – the name of the facility beyond: Neonatal ICU. The alternating pastel colours of the sign give little indication of the monumental battles that the tiny new-borns there fight every day: to thrive, to survive.

Most of the babies at the KKH Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) are born premature, or suffer from chronic or congenital medical conditions. Some premature babies, or “preemies” as they are called, are born as early as 23 weeks gestation and can weigh as little as 500 grams at birth.

Preemies are at high risk of developing complications due to their prematurity and low birth weight, and hence require close monitoring and dedicated care. Their stay can range from a few weeks to several months, depending on the severity of their conditions and their response to medical interventions. When their conditions have stabilised, most preemies move on to the Special Care Nursery (SCN), a step-down medical care facility, before they are strong enough to leave the hospital for the place they most belong to: their home.

It is a trying time for the families of these preemies, having to manage the responsibilities of daily life while facing the fragility of their young child’s life.

KKH has been an observer of World Prematurity Day, which is celebrated on 17 November every year to raise awareness about premature births. The hospital’s public awareness initiative in 2015 featured then-and-now photos of children who had ‘graduated’ from the KKH NICU and SCN and are doing well: each one a story of growth and survival.

As part of the Early Bird Baby Club, the hospital’s support group for premature infants’ families, KKH physiotherapists came up with the idea of dressing the preemies as well-known superheroes – presenting them as they are now as a fitting testament to their tenacity and will to live. The Corporate Communications department was engaged to refine the concept, in preparation for the prematurity awareness initiative for 2016.

The aim was simple: “Our Superhero Preemies” campaign was to showcase the preemies' heroism in their fight to live. Each preemie would have a "superhero trait" identified, and would be dressed as the superhero that represented that trait.

"Our Superhero Preemies” campaign was to showcase the preemies' heroism in their fight to live."

The challenge faced by KKH Early Bird Baby Club and Corporate Communications was that of having no budget for the campaign, as public healthcare institutions in Singapore do not engage in campaign advertising and promotional activities.

The chosen online platform was Facebook, where the hospital already has over 25,800 Likes on its Facebook page managed by Corporate Communications. With the potential for greater awareness through the social media reach, KKH’s Facebook page was the natural outreach platform chosen to communicate this message.

The superhero costumes were handmade and photos were taken by the healthcare staff that cared for these preemies: the costumes and materials were obtained and made by a team of physiotherapists and their friends, and a neonatologist took the photographs. These efforts were all voluntary, including the bearing of csosts involved. The photo of each preemie was then accompanied by the baby's birth weight, gestational age, length of hospital stay and description of their personality traits.

Our Superhero Preemies photo album was posted on the KKH Facebook page on World Prematurity Day, 17 November 2016, and went viral in a matter of hours. The images were shared extensively by the local Facebook community, including the pages of Singapore’s Ministry of Health. Facebook analytics indicated that Our Superhero Preemies album reached 32,797 people, with 3,419 Shares, 6,762 Reactions and 387 comments, within the first week.

The viral spread of Our Superhero Preemies also drew attention from traditional media and it was covered in several local mainstream media outlets, such as English-language broadsheet The Straits Times, Chinese-language broadsheet Lianhe Wanbao, English-language tabloid The New Paper, online news portal AsiaOne, as well as English-language news radio station 938LIVE. The cumulative media value was estimated at SG$33,000.

Many Facebook users have lauded Our Superhero Preemies as a good initiative and a fitting tribute to the premature babies. There was an outpouring of compliments and expressions of gratitude from parents of preemies who were cared for at NICU and SCN, contributing to a spike in positive social media sentiment for the hospital in November 2016.

Beyond the numbers, these words of encouragement and thanks served to boost the morale of the NICU and SCN teams, where doctors, nurses and allied health professionals tirelessly fight alongside each tiny superhero every day, regardless of the odds. Most importantly, the messages of encouragement from parents of preemies who have thrived, to the families whose children are still fighting for survival, were shining beacons of optimism during trying times.

"Beyond the numbers, these words of encouragement and thanks served to boost the morale of the NICU and SCN teams."

For the preemies and their families, their story is a universal one – to grow, to survive, and to never lose hope.

Our Superhero Preemies is a celebration of their indomitable spirit.

About KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital

KK Women's and Children’s Hospital (KKH) is a recognised leader and Singapore’s largest tertiary referral centre for Obstetrics, Gynaecology, Paediatrics and Neonatology. Founded in 1858, the 830-bed academic medical institution leads in patient-centred management of high risk conditions in women and children. More than 500 specialists adopt a compassionate, multi-disciplinary and holistic approach to treatment, and harness medical innovations and technology to deliver the best medical care possible.

Accredited as an Academic Medical Centre, KKH is a major teaching hospital for all three medical schools in Singapore, Duke-NUS Medical School, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine. The Hospital also runs the largest specialist training programme for Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Paediatrics in the country. Both programmes are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education International (ACGME-I), and are highly rated for the high quality of clinical teaching and the commitment to translational research.

Janlie Banas

Dr Janlie Banas is Clinical Associate, Department of Neonatology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. She is part of the neonatal team that cares for newborns and premature babies, Dr Janlie is a committee member of KKH’s Early Bird Baby Club – a support group formed in 1997.

Shelly-Anne Marie Sherwood

Shelly-Anne Marie Sherwood is Senior Physiotherapist, Physiotherapy Department at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Shelly conceptualised and led the Superhero Preemies project. With 13 years as a physiotherapist, she became a member of the Early Bird Baby Club’s social media team four years ago.

Nur Mazlina Binte Mazlan

Nur Mazlina Binte Mazlan is Senior Physiotherapist, Physiotherapy Department at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. A physiotherapist of 12 years, Mazlina is a committee member of the Early Bird Baby Club’s social media team. She also helped conceptualise and lead the Superhero Preemies project.

Juita Binte Mohamed

Juita Binte Mohamed is Senior Executive, Corporate Communications Department at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Juita is a media veteran of 18 years and currently manages KKH’s corporate website and the hospital’s social media initiatives to maximise online visibility and exposure of stakeholders.