There is a very special group of volunteers at UCHealth Memorial who make a tangible difference in the lives of a very young group of patients everyday.
By day Bruce Erickson says he has a fairly routine job, "I'm an engineer, I mostly sit at a desk and type, and I get up once in awhile and talk to people.” He's also been a volunteer cuddler at Memorial hospital for 21 years. The job is hold premature babies. Bruce says “engineering has been described as low touch, high tech job, and this is a high touch low tech job and it's a really good balance for me."
Dr. Kara Murphy is a Neonatologist in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit also known as the NICU, where all the efforts of doctors and nurses come together thanks to these volunteer cuddlers. Dr. Murphy says “they are a really an important part of the care we give. We have patients who are here for weeks and sometimes months at a time. It's really important to have that human interaction and that human touch for our babies and the cuddle provide that service."
For a premature infant being held or cuddled by a human is like a hug for you or me when we’re having a bad day. Dr. Murphy adds "there is nothing like human touch. Interaction is so important for a baby’s development. That interaction with a person who holds them, and cuddles them, rocks them, talks calmly with them. When babies are crying their metabolic rate increases they use more calories calming them down allows them to use those calories to grow and develop."
Bruce says he knows he makes a difference every single time he holds one of these young babies. “The baby goes to sleep and gives us such great feedback. If you watch the monitor you see their heart rate go down, their respiration rate goes down, oxygen saturation goes up, and you know I have made a difference in this baby’s life."
Cuddle volunteers also bring a measure of comfort to parents says Shelley Aldrich. Her son Even has been in the NICU for weeks. "It's comforting and reassuring to know that there are people here to hold Evan and comfort him when me or my husband can't be here. We have 3 other kids to care for, and unfortunately life doesn't stop outside of the NICU so I'm very glad they have this program at the hospital."
Bruce doesn't have kids of his own and is 1 of 2 men on a staff of 29 cuddlers. He adds that just about anyone has what it takes to be a volunteer cuddler. "I think everybody has an instinct it's such a human thing to hold a baby. It's really the calmest part of my week, and the men who don't think they have a paternal instinct, I think they are lying to themselves."
Once a year the UCHealth Memorial NICU holds an annual picnic in boulder park next to the hospital. It's a chance for staff, families, and even the cuddler volunteers to all get together and see how everyone is growing and changing after beginning their life in the NICU.