June 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Dr. Sonia Hassan: Physician's groundbreaking discoveries give preterm babies a better chance at life

Michiganian of the Year: Dr. Sonia Hassan
Michiganian of the Year: Dr. Sonia Hassan:

The walls of the high-risk pregnancy clinic at DMC Hutzel Women’s Hospital are lined with photos of healthy babies who might not have been so lucky without cutting-edge medical interventions discovered by Dr. Sonia Hassan and members of her research team.

A Grand Blanc native and Wayne State University associate dean, Hassan is director of advanced obstetrical care and research with the National Institutes of Health’s Perinatology Research Branch, housed at the Detroit Medical Center.

Hassan knows the names of each of the tiny newborns and the circumstances of their perilous journeys into the world. She is being recognized for leading groundbreaking studies into the causes and prevention of preterm birth — the No. 1 cause of infant deaths in Detroit, a city with the highest infant mortality rate in the nation.

Among Hassan’s discoveries is a low-cost treatment for women with a short cervix, a condition more common in Detroit than elsewhere in the United States or the world. Vaginal progesterone can reduce preterm births by 45 percent in women with a short cervix. But her efforts aren’t limited to research labs and delivery rooms.

Last month, Hassan and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan rolled out the “Make Your Date” initiative — a program that will connect pregnant women with doctors who are trained to implement the latest life-saving discoveries. The program also will provide services and the support mothers need to obtain timely, high quality prenatal care.

“As a result of Dr. Hassan's efforts, countless babies are being given a healthy start in life,” Duggan said.

Hassan credits her parents, both allergists, as her mentors.

“They really instilled in us the importance of knowing you can accomplish anything, and you can do that by making a difference in the community and the lives of people,” Hassan said of her father, Dr. Shawky A. Hassan, and mother, Dr. Fikria E. Hassan.

Hassan sees a healthier future ahead for mothers and babies in the city of Detroit.

“My hope is that all of the moms are part of this Make Your Date program ... and that the program will become a part of all the women’s lives. If every pregnant mom was in that, we would get them the care that they need to (deliver) their babies healthy.”

Karen Bouffard

Dr. Sonia Hassan / Max Ortiz / The Detroit News