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"Cuddlers Bring NICU Patients the Gift of Human Touch"

The worst part of the day for many parents of infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is the moment they have to leave their child. Many parents have other children they need to care for at home, or jobs they must return to, or they simply need to go home and sleep.

These parents are finding some degree of comfort in knowing that a special brigade of big-hearted volunteers is helping to provide the human touch to their babies when they cannot be with them. Mercy Children's Hospital launched a new volunteer program in Fall 2006 and has enrolled and trained 15 “Cuddlers,” who hold, rock, sing and talk to and even help feed the NICU patients when their parents are away.

“We have coverage from about 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays,” said Cuddler Program Volunteer Chairperson Gwenyth Mickus. “We designed our program based on staff input, and we have focused on trying to provide the best possible patient care and also look after family needs. I had a child who was a preemie, so I know what it is like to have to leave a baby in the NICU and not come back until the next day and think about all the time no one would be holding him. It feels good to know we can help not only the babies, but also the parents, just by coming in and holding these tiny patients.”

Clinical patient data shows that Cuddlers have a positive impact on the NICU’s patients.

“Having the Cuddlers around is fabulous” said Kristin Brower, RN, NICU. “It’s frustrating for the parents and for us when the parents can’t be here. It’s nice for us nurses to have an extra set of hands when things are busy. And, we can see the effect it has on the babies. When they are being held, their heart rates come down, their vitals stabilize, their oxygen saturations come up – they are calm.”

Cuddler volunteer Nancy F. jumped at the opportunity to help out in the NICU.

“Ever since I was born I just loved all my little baby dolls and couldn’t wait to be a mom,” she said. “Now I have five children and nine grandchildren, the youngest of whom is 13 and too old too cuddle! I died and went to heaven when I heard about this program. I just love being with the babies.

“The human touch for an infant is just the best gift we can give them. And as I am giving to them, they are also giving to me. I have such a feeling of peace and contentment when I am here. It’s a happy, relaxing feeling – it’s just great! These are the happiest hours of the week for me.”

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