A baby boy rests comfortably in the arms of David Deutchman as he sings “You Are My Sunshine” and rocks the infant to sleep in the neonatal intensive care unit of an Atlanta hospital.
Deutchman, also known as “ICU Grandpa” to parents and staff, has volunteered in the NICU and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Hospital for more than 12 years.
The surrogate grandpa visits the hospital twice a week to cradle babies who need extra attention.
“Some of my guy friends ask me what I do here and I tell them ‘Well I hold babies.’ I told them ‘I get puked on, I get peed on it, it’s great,’” Deutchman said. “They just don’t get it, the kind of reward you can get from holding a baby like this. I love it.”
Deutchman began spending time with infants when he retired from his career in international business.
“It’s been wonderful because it gives me something to do that has meaning to it,” Deutchman said. “I drive in here [and] I don’t know which kids and parents I am going to meet and what the issues will be and how can I help, it’s been wonderful for me.”
Deutchman has two daughters who are in their 50s and two grandchildren who are now 19 and 21.
The time Deutchman spends with the babies is truly invaluable, according to NICU nurse Elizabeth Mittiga.
“He’s just a special person to us as nurses and our babies just adore him so we are so grateful for him to be a part of our unit and to be a baby buddy,” Mittiga said. “We treasure him.”
Mittiga said the comfort of human touch helps babies who are growing.
“It definitely helps just feeling that comfort that warmth,” she said. “It helps them to grow faster and put more weight on. Feeding-wise, [it] can help them digest their feeds better.”
Deutchman said every scenario is different; sometimes he cradles one twin who may have be born smaller than the other, other times he comforts babies who are sick.
“A lot of the parents have other children at home or they live farther away and it’s tough for them to get in here, so they particularly appreciate if someone can hold their baby and give them a little loving. That’s where I come in,” Deutchman said