Human Interest

These unsung heroes of the NICU help premature babies just by holding them

abortion, premature

“Baby cuddlers” comfort tiny, often premature babies at various neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) across the country. Their unique calling has been the focus of many news reports, because, to many parents and hospital staffers, these volunteers are heroes. Here, Live Action News will highlight several of these volunteers, who are actually helping babies to lead healthier and better lives.

Carol Sharp

Carol Sharp has been cuddling babies for ten years. When WKRG caught up with her, she was cuddling babies born to mothers addicted to opioids at USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital.

She told the reporter that her babies like to be held tight, but that she sometimes feels helpless, because “you can’t do enough for them.” Tragically, these babies suffer the effects of withdrawal right after birth, including crying continuously, sweating, and tremors.

These babies need a lot of specialized care, and volunteers like Sharp are often called upon to show up in the middle of the night to comfort them. But as the reporter in the video states, “It’s a cuddler’s loving embrace that is the best medicine for these troubled babies.”


David Deutchman

David Deutchman, nicknamed the “ICU Cuddler,” is a volunteer at Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. “I hold babies. Sometimes I get puked on, I get peed on – it’s great,”  Deutchman told USA Today in the video below. “I just love doing it.”

A photo posted to the Hospital’s Facebook page in September shows David cuddling a baby who was born at just 25 weeks. The post reads:

“Logan has been in our hospital for six weeks. Every night, his mom goes home to be with his big sister. Every morning, she drives back to Scottish Rite feeling “anxious that he’s been missing his mommy.”

“On this particular morning, she walked into the PICU to find Logan—a preemie born at just 25 weeks—in the arms of David, who smiled and introduced himself as the ICU Grandpa. This photo captures just one precious moment with a legend of a hospital volunteer who’s been holding patients, and their parents’ hands, for 12 years.”


Deb Snider

After retiring as a school principal, Deb Snider became a volunteer baby cuddler at Blank Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care. “I love it a lot. I would pay to do this, but don’t tell them,” Snider told KCCI.

Snider has been cuddling baby Avery, who was born at just 24 weeks, weighing just 1 pound and 8 ounces. In the video below, you can hear the reassuring words Snider tells little Avery, who has reached nearly 6.5 pounds in the video.

“I get the most back from these babies. It’s the best job in the world, and I have retired, but I feel like I have won the lottery,” said Snider.


“Grandpa Mike”

Grandpa Mike volunteers at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In the video below, Grandpa Mike is seen cuddling little Remy Werner, who was born four months premature. Remy’s mother delivered him at only 28 weeks, and he weighed just over two pounds. His story was captured in the video below by NBC26:

Grandpa Mike told NBC26 that his time at the NICU as a volunteer was rewarding. “It’s so fulfilling,” he said. “It gives you back that reason for getting up in the morning and feeling like you’re part of society, and I have a purpose in my life.”


Karen Branley

Karen Branley volunteers as a baby cuddler for newborns at Mass General Hospital in Boston. She calls her little ones “Precious Gifts.” The staff says that the babies thrive when they are cuddled. “They gain weight quicker. They have shorter length of stays,” a nurse at the NICU stated.


Lou Ann Curry

Lou Ann Curry is a volunteer cuddler at Baylor University Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Dallas. Curry told the Dallas Morning News that she had a son and a grandson in the NICU and she can understand what parents are going through. She said that cuddling these babies is the highlight of her day.


Marijo Lendak

Akron Children’s Hospital has had a cuddler program for over 15 years. Volunteers hold babies who need special attention while their parents either need a break or cannot be with them. Marijo Lendak is a volunteer with the hospital’s program.

“Every time I hold one of these little people, I feel like I remember when my children were small and how it helped. We always cuddled,” she told WKBN.

“We don’t feed, we don’t change, we don’t bathe. It’s just that human contact and we try to keep them snuggled,” Lendak says in the news clip.


Mary Burns

Retired nurse Mary Burns has cuddled more than 50 babies at Geisinger Wyoming Valley’s neonatal intensive care unit. “I find a lot of joy in doing it, knowing I can give them some comfort,” Mary said.

For Mary, cuddling preemies is rewarding. “How many times a baby smiles in their sleep. … [T]hat’s something really nice to see.”


Peg Henderson

Peg Henderson says her passion is babies. She tells her fellow church members that Monday is her favorite day of the week, because she volunteers as a baby cuddler at Florida’s Winnie Palmer NICU. Dr. Gregor Alexander told WFTV in the video below that because volunteers hold these babies, it makes them eat and sleep better “and gain weight faster.”


The “Cuddle Club”

At UMC Health System, they call these special volunteers the “Cuddle Club.” The medical center says that the best volunteers are retired persons who have the time to devote to their program.

These cuddlers say they love to hold the babies, but they also like to speak to the parents and reassure them that their little ones will be comforted when they are unable to be with them.

Research shows that cuddling premature and sick babies can benefit their health and growth. But even if a child is too young to hold, cuddlers can comfort these infants with a simple touch. Studies show that touching and speaking softly to babies can reduce their stress and heart rate.

Close physical contact can also produce positive results, even ten years down the line.

Live Action News contributor  featured a report on what’s been dubbed “kangaroo care,” a holding method based on the way a mother kangaroo carries her child in her pouch close to her skin, warmed by her body.  Flanders explained that in a similar fashion, a newborn human, often preterm or low birth, is placed on her mother’s bare chest – belly to belly, in between the breasts, with the child’s head turned so she can hear her mother’s heartbeat.

A study published in 2014 by the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that kangaroo care had “significant, long-lasting social and behavioral protective effects 20 years after the intervention.”

Another study published by Biological Psychiatry found that “during the first half-year of life, mothers in the KC [kangaroo care] group were more sensitive and expressed more maternal behavior toward their infants. Children in the KC group showed better cognitive skills and executive abilities in repeated testing from six months to ten years.” Psychology Today reviewed the study and noted that at ten years of age, the children who had received skin-to-skin (KC) maternal contact as infants were healthier across the board, showing:

  • More regular sleep patterns
  • Better neuroendocrine response to stress
  • More mature functioning of the autonomic nervous system
  • Better overall cognitive control

Second to the gift of life, some would claim that human touch is one of the most precious gifts you can give. It’s a signal to another human being that they are not alone, the tender touch of someone who cares.

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