The healing effects of skin-to-skin contact and human touch have been well-documented, especially when it comes to premature babies. Little ones that doctors don’t think will make it suddenly rally when they are held against their parent’s chest.
For the parents of these babies – especially knowing this – it can be hard to be away for even a second. They want to spend all day in the NICU holding their little ones close.
Unfortunately, life calls and things have to be done away from the hospital. Parents often describe feelings of guilt when they have to leave their baby in the hospital to go run an errand or take care of their other children.
But one group of very grateful parents knows their little ones are getting extra special love and care, even when they are away. That’s all thanks to the ICU Grandpa.
For the past 12 years, David Deutchman has visited the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to hold and comfort babies. He says he has held more than a thousand babies over the years, and he doesn’t plan on stopping!
When he retired from a career in international business marketing 15 years ago, he started using his free time to give lectures at local universities, but it wasn’t giving him the fulfillment he desired. He ended up walking into the children’s hospital and asked if they needed any volunteers. For a year he helped in the hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit, and soon they asked him to move to the NICU.
“Before you know it, I was holding little babies,” he laughed. “And 12 years have just flown by.”
The 82-year-old, who is married, has two daughters in their 50s, and two grandkids, said spending time with the babies doesn’t just help them – it blesses him too.
“It is very gratifying, not just because the babies are crying and you help them to stop crying,” he said. “There are a lot of benefits to that warm connection of being held—when a baby puts their face against your heartbeat, there’s a benefit there. I came to love it, but not just because of the connection with the babies, but the whole atmosphere of the hospital.”
And he’s not just there for the babies. David said he often lends a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on to the parents who are struggling.
“I talk with mothers and sometimes I hold their hand, because holding a mom’s hand is just as important as holding a baby,” he said. “There’s a lot of stress for these parents. Having somebody tell them they can go get breakfast and assure them I’ll be there with their baby, it means something to them. It’s important.”
Logan’s mom knows this firsthand. Every night she goes home to be with her daughter, but every morning as she drives back to the hospital to be with Logan, born at just 25 weeks, she feels “anxious that he’s been missing his mommy.”
That all changed when she walked in one morning and found David holding her son. David smiled at her and introduced himself as the ICU Grandpa and suddenly all her fears and anxiousness melted away.
Fighting back tears, she snapped a photo of David and Logan, a photo which captures “just one precious moment with a legend of a hospital volunteer who’s been holding patients, and their parents’ hands, for 12 years.”
"They call him the ICU Grandpa. On Tuesdays, he visits the PICU to hold babies whose parents can’t be with them that…
David is just happy he can do his part to help babies and parents going through one of the most challenging times of their lives.
“When I drive into that parking lot every other day, I never know what I’m going to see, who I’m going to be meeting, or what challenge will be in front of me,” he said. “It keeps changing, but if there’s anything I can do to make sure people are taken care of, that’s what I’m going to do.”