Zoe Saldana rose to prominence with roles in feature films like "Star Trek" and "Avatar," and she's using that celebrity to raise awareness about babies born prematurely. It's a cause that hits close to home.
"When I was in the neonatal intensive care unit with my two sons, I became like every parent that was on that floor," the 37-year-old explained to People Magazine. "My husband and I were at the mercy of our nurses and doctors — our children's lives depended on their every move."
Saldana's twin 10-month-old sons, Cy and Bowie, were born prematurely, and that led her to support a nonprofit organization called Brave Beginnings, which works to bring critical equipment to neonatal intensive care units. The organization has committed $1 million to that end in 2015 alone.
"When children are born prematurely, they don't just need to be held," Saldana added. "They need assistance breathing, feeding and going to the bathroom. They also need incubators to protect them while they're forming immune systems."
By definition, a premature (or preterm) birth is one that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 450,000 preterm births in the US during 2012 — accounting for about 1 in every 9 births. The CDC adds that a number of health problems can be related to such births, including breathing and feeding difficulties, cerebral palsy, developmental problems, and impairment of vision and/or hearing.
Doctors must often rely on technology to provide the best possible care.
"This equipment can mean the difference between life and death for a child — that's just the truth," Saldana said. "If a child can't breathe and doesn't have the equipment to help him breathe, we can't help him with our own hands."
Now Saldana's hope is that others can access the same kind of care her sons received.
"I went through it," she said. "I was there. I was a parent, and my children were the ones that benefited from having excellent services from the hospital. And I want that for every parent. I want that for every child."