Retiree comforts ICU babies when parents can't be at the hospital

After retiring from his job as an international marketing executive, David Deutchman found he had a lot of time on his hands. While visiting a hospital for his own care, he saw an opportunity to give back. Now, twice a week, Deutchman spends his day in the pediatric and neonatal ICUs, holding babies and helping their parents.

Babies born prematurely at a hospital in Georgia get an extra dose of TLC when their parents can’t be with them, thanks to a volunteer “cuddler” who is affectionately known as the “ICU Grandpa.”

Retired marketing executive David Deutchman visits Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospital twice a week to comfort babies who are not yet big enough to leave the intensive care unit for infants. Some are there for many weeks, and aren’t always able to be cradled by Mom or Dad, who may be driving back and forth to tend to other responsibilities or take a much-needed break to shower and eat.

“After I retired, I didn’t have a lot to do with my time,” he told MassMutual. “Initially, I did some guest lectures in the universities on international marketing, which is what I did in my previous life. And then one day I decided to walk into Children’s Hospital to see if they had any opportunities for volunteers. I started holding babies almost immediately.”

Deutchman’s story went viral when one anxious mom, who was rushing back and forth between home and the hospital, which was hours away, to care for her other children, hurried into the ICU expecting to find her son, Logan, all alone. What she found, instead, was her six-week-old baby resting comfortably in Deutchman’s arms. Amid “happy tears,” she posted a photo of the pair on social media, which was “liked” by more than 250,000 people and shared more than 56,000 times.

Indeed, Deutchman doesn’t just support the babies. He’s a warm embrace for worried parents too, many of whom need a person to talk to — or a friendly hug at a difficult time. It’s a powerful reminder that we’re stronger together and that even small acts of kindness can make a big difference to those in need.

“A lot of times in the neonatal ICU, I’m either holding a baby, or I’m holding Mom’s hand, which is pretty important because we have a lot of moms who are in a stressful position and they enjoy having somebody who they can talk to,” he said. “In the pediatric ICU, I actually work more with the parents than with the kids. The parents really need someone to sit down and talk with, and try to distract them from what’s going on.”

In infants, research clearly links touch stimulation with healthy physical and psychological development, including quicker weight gain. As hospitals recognize the value in having baby cuddlers on hand in the NICU, many are implementing volunteer programs of their own. Among them: Chester County Hospital in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, and Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.

For his part, Deutchman said he loves giving back to his community and doesn’t plan to hang up his “baby cuddling” hat anytime soon. “I look forward to starting my fourteenth year,” he said. “I think it’s important that the parents in the ICU can rely on someone and have somebody they can talk to. Sometimes it’s just a matter of distracting them, asking them about their other child. I’ll say, ‘Tell me about your little girl,’ and they’ll light up and tell me all about their other child.”

1 Canadian Association of Paediatric Health Centres, “The Power of Human Touch for Babies,” May 2015.

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